Portraits: 12 young people of determination who call the UAE home
We meet some of the UAE's most inspiring residents: 'what is life if you just live in one room? I want to do a lot of things'
The UN says that to live with dignity, regardless of disability, is a human right. Here we meet 12 young people of determination who call the UAE home.
They are athletes, artists, aspiring filmmakers, sign language advocates and much, much more.
The photos below are part of an exhibition called AccessAbility, and were taken by The National's photographer Victor Besa, who collaborated with the Embassy of Sweden.
They provide insight into these 12 people and their hopes and dreams.
The exhibition, alongside the Swedish AccessAbility exhibition from 2014, is on show at Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi until March 23
Clivenne Tjenderasa, 14
Clivenne was born deaf. She spent her early years growing up in Abu Dhabi, communicating solely through American sign language. But when she was nine years old, she was given a free implant at Mafraq Hospital, allowing her to hear sounds in her environment for the first time.
Clivenne and her six friends are in the Special Olympics swimming team. She began training in September and has looked forward to the event ever since.
She has been attending special sessions and events with other Special Olympics athletes, and finding new ways to communicate with others around her.
Apart from swimming, Clivenne loves arts and crafts, dancing, pizza and posing for photos. She is competing in the 50m backstroke, 25m backstroke and 4x25m freestyle relay events.
Abdul Salam Zourob, 28
Determination is something Abdul Salam demonstrates in all parts of his life – determination to find a job, to one day marry, to be famous, and most importantly, to educate.
Abdul Salam, 28, and his older brother were born deaf. He moved from Dubai to Sharjah as a child and attended Al Amaal school for the deaf, then received a scholarship to attend Sharjah University.
He volunteers for the Services for Educational Development, Research and Awareness for inclusion Foundation.
Abdul Salam is also a keen actor, working with Mime Sharjah taking roles in and co-directing productions around the UAE.
He also runs his own educational Instagram account where he posts videos to help people learn Emirati sign language.
“I had the idea to teach sign language for free on Instagram,” he says.
“It’s my language and I just wish that everybody could know the basics so when I go to any place in the UAE, I could find my language there. I try to give people an easy way to learn.”
Abdul Salam says he is excited that the Special Olympics was being hosted by the UAE.
“It’s exciting to be a volunteer for this Olympics," he said. "It’s such a special event for people with disabilities and it’s in my country, in Abu Dhabi. I am so proud.”
Amar Alhattali, 29
Amar Alhattali is rarely found without his camera. While his muscular dystrophy can severely hamper his mobility, it has not affected his eye for capturing the world’s beauty.
Amar, 29, became interested in photography seven years ago.
Inspired by landscapes he had seen around the world and people he met while travelling, he bought his first professional camera and started watching YouTube tutorials to teach himself more about photography.
“I love to capture people’s faces and the landscapes,” he says. “My favourite place is London, I have been visiting since I was a child and I love the people. I have great memories there.”
Amar lives in Abu Dhabi with his family, including his brother and sister, and also volunteers with the Sedra Foundation.
He planned to see as many sports as he could at the Special Olympics, although he does have a favourite.
“I am so excited,” Amar says. “My favourite sport is football. I think it’s a really good thing for people with disabilities for the Olympics to come here. For people to exercise and communicate, I think it’s great.”
Noura Al Blooki, 28
“Writing is my weapon of choice for change,” says Noura Al Blooki, 28. “I use it as an emotional outlet for when things get rough and affect me.”
Noura works at Abu Dhabi Media as a content producer and editor, after graduating from university with a major in international relations and a minor in media and communications.
But her school journey was not straightforward. When she was nine, she had a rare genetic condition called Chronic Immune Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIPD) diagnosed.
It caused impaired sensory function in the legs and arms. She spent a lot of time travelling between the UAE and Boston, Massachusetts, where she received her treatment.
After chemotherapy, doctors were able to stabilise the disease, and with encouragement from her parents, Noura returned to her studies.
“What is life if you just live in one room?” she asks. “I want to do a lot of things.”
Noura also works with the Sedra Foundation and is a volunteer of determination, working as a youth leader and a co-ordinator for other volunteers.
She is volunteering at the Special Olympics and covering it for Abu Dhabi Media.
“I am very excited, I always dreamt for change to come,” Noura says. “I feel like the Special Olympics will be the beginning of the change, but I want to make sure that after the Olympics the change continues, so I want to keep pushing.”
Abdulla Al Mansouri, 12
Abdulla Al Mansouri is an eternal optimist. A smile rarely leaves the Emirati-American’s face and it shines its brightest when doing what he loves – playing a good game of tennis and being creative.
Abdulla, 12, has always looked on the bright side of life and is determined to bring his vision to a screen near you.
“I love movies and I would like to write a script,” he says. “I also love video games and learning to make video games.”
A sporting talent who has lived with a lifelong metabolic condition and autism, Abdulla was initially offered a spot in the UAE’s Special Olympics golf team, but chose tennis instead because he “simply loves it".
Mohammed Al Tamimi, 22
Born and raised in Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Al Tamimi cuts a striking figure.
Mohammed, 22, is tall and graceful and has been educating the UAE about his autism since he was 18. That was when he appeared in the powerful Emirati documentary The Brain that Sings.
Unable to communicate, Mohammed’s eyes light up when the discussion centres on the Special Olympics. His father and full time carer Saleh says his son is a fan of the event.
“By Abu Dhabi hosting this event, it will bring exposure to the world of the conditions of these great people with special needs," Saleh says.
Conor Conway, 16
Conor Conway, 16, is a swimming dynamo ready to go.
Conor, who was born with Down syndrome, was selected to represent the UAE in the 1500-metre open-water swim at the Special Olympics.
The British-born athlete has been training relentlessly for the big event. This means early morning visits to the Abu Dhabi Golf Club for daily training sessions.
Conor says he is simply looking forward to enjoying the experience.
“Well, when I came here to Abu Dhabi four years ago, I never heard of the Special Olympics,” he says.
“So when it finally came here I thought this would be the best way for me to become famous.”
Saif Al Qubaisi, 14
Saif Al Qubaisi has chosen a strange sport for a self-confessed action man.
Saif, 14, is teeing up for the golf team in the Special Olympics, a relatively calm sport. But he is looking forward to shaking up the sport Happy Gilmore-style.
“I like to take big, huge long shots,” he says. “That’s my favourite part of the game and I can’t wait to do it in the Olympics.”
That said, with a regimen of three classes a week at the Yas Links course, Saif’s game is as much finesse as power.
Other than spending time on the green, he loves Arabic pop music and playing Uno. His dream is to become a policeman.
“I want to protect everyone,” Saif says.
Salma Anis, 22
Swimming has always given Salma Anis confidence and motivation.
Salma, who has a mild intellectual disability, is rarely out of the water, her carer says.
“Whenever the family goes on holiday there needs to be good pool in the hotel,” she says. “That’s where she spends most of her time.”
But swimming is not all play for Salma. She has been practising daily for the Special Olympics and is looking forward to showing her talent to the world.
Alia Al Mheiri, 19
Emirati Alia Al Mheiri may have had developmental delay diagnosed when she was a month old, but that has not stopped her living life to the fullest.
She will represent her country as part of the Special Olympics swimming team but Alia, 19, has a range of talents including handcraft decoration, stitching and playing the piano.
Through her carer, she says the Special Olympics is a fun place to meet new friends.
Gabrielle Marie Snowden, 27
Born in Chicago, Gabrielle Marie Snowden says she is not one to stand idle.
Gabrielle, 27, has been perfecting her golf swing ever since she was introduced to the sport at Dubai’s Meydan Golf Club more than a year ago.
She also has a love for all performance arts, in particularly music. That’s if her two squabbling cats allow her to listen to her favourite songs in peace.
“Their names are Roscoe and Roxy,” Gabrielle says. “They are always fighting and I have to keep telling them to behave.”
She arriving in the world at 26 weeks, when she weighed only 0.6 kilograms.
Vincent Baur-Richter, 22
UAE diners may not know Vincent Baur-Richter, but they have probably seen his work.
As well as being an avid golfer, Vincent, 22, is also an extraordinarily talented graffiti artist whose vivid murals have been exhibited at Dubai’s Steigenberger Hotel.
He has also worked in the hotel’s food and beverage team but always finds time to practise his golf strokes three days a week.
He finds it very therapeutic.
“Golf is a beautiful game,” Vincent says. “I love it because you can always get better with practice.”
Born with Down syndrome, Vincent advocates for people of determination in the UAE.
He organised film screening in Abu Dhabi and gives talks in schools.
Updated: March 19, 2019 04:53 AM