DUBAI // Last year, Jalal bin Thaneya suffered blisters, thirst and heat exhaustion as he became the first person to walk across all seven emirates consecutively. In January, Mr Thaneya, 22, broke records by climbing 100 towers in Dubai over 12 days. Now, the university student has decided to walk from his front door to Saudi Arabia.
Mr Thaneya, an Emirati, is undertaking his most ambitious project to raise funds and awareness for special needs students wishing to perform haj, or Umrah, pilgrimages to Mecca. "Islam says that everybody should make the journey to Mecca at least once in their lifetime so long as it is physically possible," said Mr Thaneya. "Yet families with special needs children spend so much money on care that often they struggle to fund the pilgrimage. It is my goal to raise enough money to send a group of youngsters on a haj and to raise awareness about their situation."
The trek is projected to take three months, with Mr Thaneya covering up to 40km a day. This will mean walking for eight to 12 hours with only brief stops for water and food. He will be followed by a support vehicle carrying supplies. At night, he plans to sleep in a tent or, if it is too hot, to sleep on the back seat of the car. He will make his journey in the autumn of 2010, once he completes his business studies at Middlesex University in Dubai.
The timing, he says, will be the toughest challenge. "I don't mind the heat, as long as I keep adequately hydrated and cover my face and arms. I don't think it will be an issue - I'm used to it. "Also, I will be well prepared with plenty of food and water, so the main thing to work on is my mental stamina. Spending three months trekking through the desert with largely only my own thoughts for company will be tough. I will leave behind every home comfort and essentially put my life on hold.
"But it needs to be challenging, otherwise it wouldn't be worth doing." Mr Thaneya has been pushing himself beyond his limits since last year, when he decided to become the first person to walk through every emirate - a distance of 600km. The project was self-funded and the sponsorship money he received went to the Dubai Autism Centre. The marathon tower climb raised funds for the Rashid Paediatric Centre, a special needs school in Dubai.
For the 2010 project, Mr Thaneya has not decided which organisation he will be raising money for, but he will have an online donation site that will collect money for the people he hopes to send to Mecca. "I feel it is my responsibility as a young and healthy person to do what I can for people who are less fortunate. I come from a wealthy family and I could spend my spare time on luxurious holidays, but I don't like the idea of indulging myself. I would rather do something for those around me," he said.
Mr Thaneya added that he did not have any friends or family members with special needs, but he felt strongly about the cause. "Under UAE law, everyone has the same rights," he said. "But I don't see that in practice. I see people with autism, bipolar disorders or motor function problems being shunned by society and, in some cases, families keeping the children inside the whole time as if they were some sort of embarrassment. I want to change this stigma."
The walk will begin in October 2010. Mr Thaneya will set off from his front door in Jumeirah, Dubai, and walk south-west to Liwa before making his way to the Saudi border. He does not yet know whether he will be able to continue his journey into Saudi because of border controls, but if so he will extend the walk to Mecca. "It is not going to be easy going, but I hope it will attract a lot of attention to my cause. After my studies, I hope to go on to do humanitarian or charitable work. This will give me the perfect grounding," he said.
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