x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Exceptional and deserving heroes

A record-breaking 22,000 people from 62 countries were nominated for this year's Abu Dhabi Awards in recognition of their contributions to the UAE.

Dr Maha Barakat

An Emirati who has spent several decades in England, Dr Barakat draws no line between work and home. She returned to the UAE to head the Imperial College of London Diabetes Centre, but has always made sure she is available for those who seek help. "All [my] life has been looking after patients, during normal working hours or outside working hours," she said. "It is second nature to help somebody, regardless of time. We [at the centre] do not know the start of work and end of work." She said coming back to serve her community was "wonderful". And her award was a sign that her work, and the centre's, was appreciated. "I feel incredibly humbled, it really represents an acceptance from the community," she said. "Efforts deemed beneficial to them, everything we have been doing in the past eight years. And that makes it so special, that all our efforts are appreciated."

Jamal Al Suwaidi

After getting his doctorate in political science in the US in the 1980s, Dr Al Suwaidi was determined to come back home to work for his country. And just three years after his return, in 1991, he set up the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, an independent research institute in Abu Dhabi. Its role, he says, is to "help policymakers and monitor developments in the UAE, Middle East, and the world in general". In doing so, Mr Al Suwaidi has worked extensively on Gulf security, perceptions of democracy in Arab and western societies, women and development. "I am extremely happy and honoured to get this award, and honoured to be handed it by Sheikh Mohammed, our Crown Prince," he said.

Salem al Mohannadi

He deals every day with Abu Dhabi's investments, but when he can, Mr Al Mohannadi also makes his own investments in others' welfare. The 55-year-old Emirati, who is the executive director for finance at the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, regularly holds a private majlis where those in need can come to seek financial support. He has helped build schools, mosques and wells in developing countries, as well as help people pay off loans and send their children to school in the Emirates. "Whatever money I have, I try to use it to support individuals or the community," he said. "When I make people happy, then I am happy." He was "really surprised" to be one of the 10 winners of this year's Abu Dhabi Awards on Tuesday night. He declined, though, to put a figure on his philanthropy. "We have a saying that whatever your right hand does for others, your left hand should not know."

Alain Saint-Hilaire

When the French Canadian photographer and filmmaker came to the UAE in 1964, he was hoping to photograph the unknown. "Nobody was interested in this area," said the 70-year-old, who received the Abu Dhabi award for documenting the country's growth in two films and a sizable photography collection. "They said, 'Why are you going there, there is nothing.' But I wanted to discover the unknown. When I went to the desert the local sheikhs told me that I wouldn't be able to stay with them because they slept in the sand. But I wanted to go everywhere to the deserts and to the mountains of Fujairah. Everything was important - the way of living, the customs, whatever made life here." He is now working on another documentary on the Emirates, which should be ready by June. "Nobody thought this development and growth here is possible. Criticising is so easy but I like to always look at the positive side."

Abdul Muqeet Mannan

The youngest winnner, 10-year-old Abdul, has a message for UAE residents: plant more trees, always recycle and stop using plastic bags. Grocery stores near his Abu Dhabi home have replaced plastic bags with paper bags that he makes from newspapers and scrap paper. Over the past two years, he has made more than 6,000, earning him the nickname "the Paper Bag Boy". "I feel happy when I see people using these bags but when my bags are over, the stores again use plastic," said Abdul, from Jaipur in western India. "If more people made these bags then more stores will not use any plastic." He aims to save trees and names Sheikh Zayed as his main inspiration. "Baba [father] Zayed believed in protecting nature. He once said, 'Man has to be kind not only to humans but also to animals and plants as God bestows kindness on those who show kindness to others.' This I always remember."

Dr Taisser Atrak

A child-safety campaigner hopes his award will help highlight the issues he has fought to publicise. Dr Atrak, the head of paediatrics at Al Mafraq Hospital, was commended for his work in promoting the use of child safety seats in cars, as well as holding free workshops to teach parents and nannies about emergency first aid. "I don't do this for recognition, I do this to make a difference in children's lives," said the 52-year-old Lebanese American. "I'm happy for this award because it will put a light on the major issue. If people are more aware of it, they will do more to prevent it." Schemes pioneered by Dr Atrak include giving 750 child car seats to new parents.

* Reporting by Ola Salem, Martin Croucher and Ramola Talwar Badam