x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Disability is no barrier for solar ambition

Haidar Taleb's solar-powered wheelchair tour of the country has captured the imagination, and admiration, of the nation's children, who greet him with cheers and flowers along his journey.

The second part of Haidar Taleb's 350km journey across the country, from Dibba Fujairah to Ras al Khaimah, took his team of six about eight hours to complete.
The second part of Haidar Taleb's 350km journey across the country, from Dibba Fujairah to Ras al Khaimah, took his team of six about eight hours to complete.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // Haidar Taleb hit the mountain highways yesterday on the second stage of his 350km journey across the country in his solar-powered wheelchair.

Mr Taleb, 47, motored along the rolling highway between Dibba Fujairah to Ras al Khaimah for eight hours with his team of six, his wife and a growing convoy of vehicles after two days touring Fujairah and the east coast.

"I just go for it," said Mr Taleb, who contracted polio at the age of four. "I believe in God and God is my guide for everything I do. To be honest, there are many times I thought about the difficulties I face but if you have trust in what you believe you can do anything."

People in rural areas have come to greet him on the highway as news of his journey has spread. Mr Taleb's favourite moment yesterday was when three boys, each about four years old, were waiting for Mr Taleb as he rounded a mountain road. When he came into sight they cheered and presented him with a UAE flag.

"The people are sharing more with us this time," said Mr Taleb.

"You know we had a little difficulty in the mountains going up and coming down but the scenes are very nice, looking around at the mountains and the trees."

Masdar, who sponsored the trip with the Ministry of Public Works, is working with Mr Taleb to develop a solar-powered wheelchair that will be for sale next year.

The inventor set a Guinness World Record for the longest one-day trip in a solar-powered wheelchair on a 14-hour, 141.7km trip from Masdar City to Sharjah two weeks ago.

The chair has been slightly modified for comfort and has a maximum speed of about 15 kph.

Two large panels have been replaced by four 80cm by 50cm rotating panels with four 24-watt batteries that can last for six hours should skies turn grey.

Mr Taleb will arrive at the Abu Dhabi Corniche on December 2 for National Day after a 14-hour trip from Dubai.

The journey is his way of thanking his country for the increased support for disabled people over the past 10 years.

"Really what is in my mind right now is for the mentally disabled because it is difficult to find a job for them," said Mr Taleb.

"It is my dream to see a factory making wheelchairs inside the country, for the country and for export."

Pupils greeted Mr Taleb with dancing, flowers and a volley of questions on the solar-powered chair he designed with a Ukrainian mechanic.

"Some day I can do something like this," said Khalifa Abdulrahman, 13, a year 7 pupil from Fujairah who uses a wheelchair after a car crash left him paralysed.

"Sometimes things are a challenge for me but from this I can see how things can be OK. It gives me the idea that I must make something of myself."

One of Mr Taleb's biggest fans was Ahmed Mohammed, 13, a grade 6 student.

At less than 3ft tall, Ahmed plays football with his friends but also relies on a wheelchair to get around quickly.

"I want to be the same as him, or even greater," said Ahmed.

"This shows I have the ability to do everything, to do anything. I have the ability to challenge myself."

Teachers were also moved.

"I swear, it means many things for us as teachers and also as human beings," said Emad Yousef, their English teacher.

Mr Taleb's family will join him from Sharjah.

"The reason we are going to schools is to show them that disability doesn't stop what we can do. We might not speak on this trip about disability but I am 100 per cent sure that when they see me it will show them what can be done.

"Last year when I thought to do a solar-powered wheelchair, within a few weeks we were looking for the parts. God gives us the sun so why not use it?"

 

azacharias@thenational.ae