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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 January 2019

2018 in review: celebrating the people who helped shape the UAE

Honouring 10 UAE heroes who have gone the extra mile for others

Ralph Helmick, architect of The Founder’s Memorial. Pawan Singh / The National 
Ralph Helmick, architect of The Founder’s Memorial. Pawan Singh / The National 

The very fabric of the UAE is its people. From teachers to animal welfare activists, nurses and pupils, every day regular people - who come from all over the globe to call the UAE home - do extraordinary things that have a positive ripple effect on others that will be felt well beyond the end of 2018.

Here are 10 people who made their mark on the UAE this year.

1. Ralph Helmick, artist

American sculptor and public artist Ralph Helmick is responsible for Abu Dhabi’s tribute to the UAE’s Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed.

He designed the Founder’s Memorial and its centrepiece: The Constellation.

Known for his work with human perception and suspending objects, the memorial is no different.

The monument comprises more than 1,300 geometric shapes suspended on more than 1,000 cables that create a likeness of Sheikh Zayed reflected in points of light.

It is designed to be experienced differently from several viewing points.

Mr Helmick, 66, from Pennsylvania, designed the monument to be surrounded by 3.3 hectares of landscaped space

that encapsulates Emirati heritage and culture.

The memorial features native plants and a traditional falaj as well as an exhibition about Sheikh Zayed’s life.

> Read more: Sheikh Zayed Founder's Memorial will open to public this month

Sunny Varkey. Victor Besa / The National 
Sunny Varkey. Victor Besa / The National 

2. Sunny Varkey, philanthropist and Gems founder:

It has been a particularly philanthropic year for Sunny Varkey, founder of school operator Gems Education and of the Varkey Foundation, which aims to help 100 deprived children for every one who is enrolled in a Gems school.

The billionaire is responsible for the Global Teacher Prize, an annual $1 million (Dh3.67m) award to the world’s most exceptional teacher, which was established in 2014.

Mr Varkey, 61, was born in Kerala and moved to Dubai in 1959.

This year, he took The Global Pledge, promising to donate at least half his wealth to good causes.

When heavy flooding devastated his native southern Indian state and killed more than 300 people, Mr Varkey donated Dh5 million to the UAE’s relief campaign.

> Read more: Indian businessmen pledge millions of dirhams to UAE's relief campaign for flood-stricken Kerala

Fawaz Kanaan. Victor Besa / The National 
Fawaz Kanaan. Victor Besa / The National 

3. Fawaz Kanaan, cat rescuer

The UAE struggles with a large population of stray cats whose only hope is a community that organises online to help find them homes – sometimes at great financial cost.

Fawaz Kanaan has been rescuing cats in Dubai since 2001. The Syrian events manager runs the Facebook page Save Dubai Stray Cats, which has more than 5,000 followers, and works tirelessly to promote the well-being of stray cats in the region.

He owns three cats himself and is providing a foster home to another four.

He says too many cats are simply abandoned on the streets of Dubai and encourages people to take stray cats to vets to see if they are microchipped. Mr Kanaan is also calling for the UAE to provide free animal shelters to keep stray cats off the streets. He has urged people to consider adopting, as he believes that one in three stray cats can be rehomed as pets.

As the UAE steps up legislation to punish people who abuse or abandon animals, people like Mr Kanaan are working hard to help keep pets safe.

Naama Sl Sharhan. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
Naama Sl Sharhan. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National

4. Naama Al Sharhan, FNC member

In 2015, Naama Al Sharhan was the only woman elected by the public to the Federal National Council.

Three years later, and President Sheikh Khalifa has decreed that women must comprise 50 per cent of FNC seats after next year’s election.

Ms Al Sharhan represents Ras Al Khaimah but brings issues affecting the whole country to the council.

She comes from an educational background, beginning her career as a teacher, becoming a principal and then filling various posts at the Ministry of Education.

Last year, a video of her questioning the Minister of Education about why he had not attended some FNC sessions went viral online. By her tenacity and strength during sessions, she has shown why women are “the soul of parliament”.

> Read more: Emirati Women's Day: Women of the FNC tell of their proudest moments

Elizabeth Gilmore. Reem Mohammed / The National
Elizabeth Gilmore. Reem Mohammed / The National

5. Elizabeth Gilmore, nurse and volunteer

Elizabeth Gilmore, 29, is a registered emergency nurse leader at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi and has spent most of her life volunteering in war-torn and disaster-struck countries.

She joined CCAD from the US in October 2014 but began going on volunteer missions in 2007 with a trip to Kenya.

In 2011, she travelled to Honduras, where she worked for a start-up clinic. The next year, she moved to Ecuador to help out at a mobile clinic treating tribes in the Amazon.

She has been to Egypt and Nepal and this year visited Bangladesh to volunteer at Rohingya refugee camps.

Ms Gilmore uses her annual leave days to make those journeys and plans to return to Bangladesh in February.

> Read more: Portrait of a Nation: Meet the Abu Dhabi nurse who runs towards a crisis

Ashraf Thamarassery. Jon Gambrell / AP
Ashraf Thamarassery. Jon Gambrell / AP

6. Ashraf 'Sherry' Thamarassery, volunteer

When families are struggling to deal with the loss of a loved one and the complications that come with repatriating a body, Ashraf Thamarassery is there to help.

The Indian national moved to the UAE in 1999, and set up a garage and car repair shop in Ajman. A year later, after assisting two labourers unaware of the procedure to send their father’s body to India, he realised dozens of workers struggled to negotiate the paperwork.

He still runs the car repair shop with his brother but focuses on philanthropic work instead, helping hundreds of people bring the bodies of their loved ones home – for free.

He was thrown into the spotlight this year when he was revealed to be the man responsible for repatriating the body of Bollywood actress Sridevi.

> Read more: Indian expat makes final journey from UAE easier for relatives of deceased

Rashed Hashem has been awarded a Dh1 million prize for going the extra mile to enrich the education of pupils. Khushnum Bhandari/ The National
Rashed Hashem has been awarded a Dh1 million prize for going the extra mile to enrich the education of pupils. Khushnum Bhandari/ The National

7. Rashed Ali Hashem, ‘best teacher in the GCC’:

An inspiring Emirati teacher who spent Dh300,000 of his own money to provide top-quality facilities for pupils was the winner of this year’s Mohamed bin Zayed Award for Best GCC Teacher.

Dr Rashed Ali Hashem was given the Dh1 million award after he paid to set up 12 high-tech teaching laboratories and a museum for pupils at Al Moatasem School in Baniyas, Abu Dhabi.

The labs focus on academic achievement and encourage healthy bodies and minds through the inclusion of physical activity.

Dr Hashem has pledged to give half of his award money to charity, with the rest to be invested in a project he is considering launching.

> Read more: You're one in a million: UAE teacher crowned best in the region

Paul Cortes. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Paul Cortes. Chris Whiteoak / The National

8. Paul Cortes, Philippines consul general

The UAE announced a three-month visa amnesty this year that was extended to 5 months after thousands of residents who had overstayed their visas came forward to have their status resolved.

Paul Cortes has been at the forefront of helping Filipino residents either return home – some after years of being unable to due to debts or overstay fines – or apply for a temporary work permit to seek employment in the UAE.

It is merely one of Mr Cortes’s many roles.

He was posted as chief of mission in Dubai following stints in Europe and America over the past 20 years.

In 2017, the Dubai office was named the best performing Philippine service mission, with Mr Cortes presented with the Gawad Mabini award by President Rodrigo Duterte for distinguished foreign service.

> Read more: UAE Portrait of a Nation: The Filipino who will never leave a fellow kabayan behind

Abdul Muqeet. Victor Besa / The National 
Abdul Muqeet. Victor Besa / The National 

9. Abdul Muqeet, pupil and environmentalist

It is said that children are the future – and with teenagers like Abdul Muqeet, we all have reason for hope.

The pupil, 17, earned international fame for his ongoing campaign against plastic-bag use. He is so synonymous with his cause that he is affectionately known as “Paper Bag Boy”.

This year, Abu Dhabi’s own young environmentalist was shortlisted with 108 others around the world for the International Children’s Peace Prize.

Abdul Muqeet spends his free time and money travelling to colleges, universities, schools, offices and government departments to spread his message, and has given more than 200 workshops around the world.

He has produced more than 8,000 recycled newspaper bags, a practice which has become popular in the UAE.

> Read more: 'Paper Bag Boy' of Abu Dhabi in line for major international accolade

Talal Al Hashemi, . Victor Besa / The National 
Talal Al Hashemi, . Victor Besa / The National 

10. Talal Al Hashemi, national director of Special Olympics UAE

Talal Al Hashemi plays a vital role in planning and rolling out programmes to train children and athletes with special needs.

He heads a team that works with UAE athletes and has played a crucial role in expanding the reach of the Special Olympics, encouraging people with intellectual disabilities in the Middle East and North Africa to take up sports.

His aim is to create long-term change across the region.

Mr Al Hashemi has worked to ensure the UAE team will participate in all 24 disciplines at the World Games next year.

After the Special Olympics ends, the aim is to incorporate the sporting event’s values of understanding, empathy, tolerance, team work and access in educational institutions across the country.

> Read more: The UAE explained: Everything you need to know about the Special Olympic World Games

Updated: December 29, 2018 09:46 AM

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