x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Nelson Mandela inspires 67 UAE heroes

From building classrooms to rescuing stray animals, the 67 stories illustrate the strength of community among residents of the UAE.

ABU DHABI // Two years ago, Nelson Mandela made a birthday wish for people to donate 67 minutes each to the good of the community, to mark his 67 years as a freedom activist.

Yesterday, diplomats and other notables gathered to honour the country's men and women who answered the South African leader's call, with the book launch of 67 Inspiring Stories.

Those stories include that of Mariam Baniyas, who has been involved in projects in China, Tanzania and in the US since joining Takatof, the social programme established by the Emirates Foundation to foster a culture of volunteerism, in 2010.

"My most memorable experience was in Zanzibar," said Ms Baniyas, 31, an Emirati who was among a group of volunteers who helped to renovate existing schools and build new classrooms.

"The experience was life changing in so many ways. I encourage everyone to spend more time in community work.

"Volunteering gives me a sense of worth and a chance to give back to the community in a meaningful way. I already have 1,200 volunteer hours."

Each story was inspired by the commemorative Nelson Mandela Day celebration in 2011 when a 20-metre canvas portraying the history of the South African activist turned president went on display at Khalidiyah Mall in Abu Dhabi.

The campaign was launched by Nahtam Social Responsibility, an organisation that works to address the social needs of people in the UAE and the poor around the world.

Yesterday, the first copy of the book was handed over to Yusuf Ali, philanthropist and managing director of Lulu Group International.

"The great Nelson Mandela dedicated his life to community service," Mr Ali said. "I appreciate these 67 heroes. In your own little way you have made a difference."

The story of Salwa Al Hammadi, an economist in Dubai who helps injured and abandoned animals by providing them with food and shelter, is among those featured in the 135-page book.

The 33-year-old Emirati said it was the responsibility of all to help stray animals suffering from hunger, road accidents and illness.

Ms Al Hammadi has animals spayed and neutered, vaccinated and provides them with shelter.

"The book proves that there are many ways to make a difference and one way is to show respect for these poor creatures," she said.

At the moment, the 45 cats she has rescued and adopted out have proper care and love.

Tuaiba Al Darmaki, 29, said she was proud of her achievements, drawing inspiration from Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. She considers volunteers as "soldiers in the country ever ready to serve".

Ms Al Darmaki joined Takatof last year. Her first experience was at the Shanghai Expo in China where she represented her country at the UAE pavilion.

She joined Habitat for Humanity to help build homes affected by the 2011 tornado in Missouri through the Ten for Joplin programme, and served as a marshal at the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix.

Martina Venus, the director of public relations at the Sheraton Abu Dhabi Hotel and Resort, said the hotel had local, regional and international community projects. These include the Road to Awareness initiative that supports the education of impoverished children, iftar for taxi drivers and charity flea markets.

"Community work is truly rewarding and we hope that stories in this book will inspire other people or companies to find their unique ways and help the less fortunate in this world," Ms Venus said.

The stories of the 67 were pared down from more than 3,000 who sent in heart-warming accounts of their experiences of community work.

"The nation's strength is in its children and this book will be a great motivation for our next generation towards social responsibility," said George Itty, chief executive of Nahtam Social Responsibility.

Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister for Youth, Culture and Community, who inaugurated the Nelson Mandela Day celebration in 2011, will sign a copy of the book to be presented to Mr Mandela.