Behind the scenes, a small army of women dedicate their lives not only to their family and careers, but also to the needs of the wider community.
Honours for five inspirational women
DUBAI // Behind the scenes, a small army of women dedicate their lives not only to their family and careers, but also to the needs of the wider community.
Helping anyone in need, from arthritis sufferers to labourers, humanitarian support groups extend their reach to the community in an effort to give back.
Five of these inspirational women were honoured yesterday for their charity work at an event called Mall of the Emirates' Extraordinary Women, a week before International Women's Day on March 8.
Fuad Mansoor Sharaf, the mall's senior asset director, said women played a much more significant role in society than in the past and should be honoured for it.
"In the private sector, the public sector, even as ministers, we can see women playing an important role in the UAE," he said. "They are an important part of society."
The five women were recognised for having gone "beyond borders and achieved more than normal things in their lives".
One of those honoured, Ebtisam Abdulaziz, 35, an Emirati artist, said the event was a chance to reflect on how far women had come over the past 30 years.
"The number of educated women has really increased," she said. "Women have done a lot of things here in the past 30 years and it's exciting to be a part of this generation of women taking women into something different."
The literacy rate among women was 90 per cent in 2007 and they account for three-fifths of the students at federal universities.
The culture of volunteering and giving has blossomed in recent years, with a whole host of charities in a range of fields.
From banks and charities supporting local college students to communities donating food to labourers, the UAE is a hotbed of charitable activity both at home and abroad.
In 2009 alone, the Government and private donor organisations gave nearly Dh9 billion in foreign aid.
Saher Shaikh, 34, founded Adopt-a-Camp just two months after she arrived in Dubai seven years ago. "The community here is so giving," she said. "The companies, the community, they're so generous. It doesn't have to be just giving money, but some time. We're so fortunate living in Dubai."
Last Ramadan, Adopt-a-Camp distributed about 3,000 care packages to labourers.
She says promotional help from Mall of the Emirates has allowed the campaign to reach an wider audience than she could ever have imagined. "It's a platform I couldn't reach on my own."
Lama Bazzari, the chief executive of NStyle salons, which works with charities such as Dubai Cares, was also honoured at the event.
"It's so nice to see more women taking their time to launch their own charities and support worthwhile causes," she said.
Starting today, the mall is running a 10-day campaign called Connecting Girls, Inspiring Future, which will include an exhibition at the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre entitled Women of the UAE, by the Dubai photographer Charney Magri.
Every day, Katrina Thornely lives with the agony of rheumatoid arthritis, a genetic condition she has had since she was two. She has no movement in her wrists and needs Dh80,000 worth of medication every year just to stay mobile. In spite of this, the 30-year-old, who gave birth just 15 days ago to a healthy baby boy, her first child, also splits her life between being a busy marketing executive and helping others as the patient-support director at the Emirates Arthritis Foundation. Since she joined the group three years ago it has made enormous strides in raising awareness of the condition and helping to break down stigmas, she says. “Many people in the region won’t talk about disability but I wanted to tell patients that even though it can be painful and crippling, you can still do all the things you want to do in life, like snowboarding or skydiving.”
For seven years Saher Shaikh has looked after what she calls “my boys”. Two are her sons, but the other 29,000 are her “adopted boys”, the men in the emirate’s labour camps whose basic needs, from food to health care, she tries to ensure are met. The mother of three spends her days co-ordinating deliveries to the camps, medical visits and organising events such as the Ramadan campaign making aid packages for labourers. The Pakistani-Afghan Mrs Shaikh says her cultural background could have been a barrier to her spending her time with men in labour camps, but the support of her husband and family has been her driving force. “I have
two sons and we’re just lucky
we’re living this life. Who would have taken care of our kids? That thought just haunts me. Someone should be looking out for these sons, brothers.”
The entrepreneur Lama Bazzari launched her first nail bar in Bahrain 10 years ago, but from the start knew she must give something back. “It was important for us to align the business with giving back to the community, especially with a focus on women and children,” said the Palestinian mother of three. She was approached by the Bahraini labour ministry to take part in enabling training for young, poor women, to help them to start their own business, be able to work from home, or enter the workplace. “It was about enabling them to support their children and raise their standard of living,” she says. The initiative has since expanded to Jordan, and her work now sees her raising funds for the UAE’s Dubai Cares and the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund.
An Emirati artist, Ebtisam Abdulaziz is an active supporter of Start, a non-profit organisation in Dubai founded by Art Dubai and Al Mahad foundation, which uses art to heal and educate poor children and those with special needs in the UAE and across the region. “As an artist, we have a lot of social jobs to do,” she said. “The artist shouldn’t just be in the studio but they should do another social job, such as educate people through their art. I hate to see non-educated kids.” One of her passions is to help to give voices to children through their art with workshops. “Art means we don’t have to talk the same language but we can express ourselves through art.”
The founder of the Dubai Animal Rescue Centre was not able to attend yesterday’s event but was honoured for her work in rescuing and treating exotic animals that have been saved from local homes. Over the years since founding the organisation in 1999 at a villa in Al Barsha, those animals have included snakes, monkeys, parrots, gazelles and more domestic animals such as cats. The animals cared for have either been saved from neglect or abuse, or given away.
* Melanie Swan