x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

TEDx Dubai Women hears how Disney made wish come true

Successful women share their experience with others in day devoted to re-imagining the role of females in the UAE.

Amna Abulhoul, an art director, was one of the speakers at a TEDx event at Zayed University in Dubai yesterday.
Amna Abulhoul, an art director, was one of the speakers at a TEDx event at Zayed University in Dubai yesterday.

DUBAI // From the age of five, Amna Abulhoul knew she wanted a career in animation, after her father brought home the film The Lion King.

"Seeing these colourful moving objects in front of my eyes, I was immediately intrigued," she said.

Years later, with the support of her sister, Ms Abulhoul did some research online and enrolled in the Disney Imagineering competition, where participants had to design a Walt Disney University. The task proved challenging and required attention to detail, from designing the overall building to the student uniforms.

Yesterday, Ms Abulhoul, 21, took the stage by storm during the TEDx Dubai Women conference at Zayed University, a platform for professionals to share and inspire ideas. The topic was re-imagining the role of women in the UAE. Successful women had an opportunity to share their experience with others.

Ms Abulhoul, from Dubai, told the audience: "Magic is not something you can touch or see, but something you feel in your heart."

It was something her boss first told her when she first stepped into the Walt Disney animation training centre two years ago.

She described finding out that she would be working for Disney. "I remember it was 2am. I was getting ready to go to sleep and all of a sudden I was more awake than I could ever be," Ms Abulhoul said. "Everything around me went blank."

Walt Disney Imagineering, the creative force behind Disney theme parks around the world, offered her a three-month paid internship, where she could finally make her dreams come true. Not only was she the youngest intern to be a part of the Imagineering programme, but she was also the first Arab and international trainee.

"The whole experience was weird," she said. "This has always been my childhood dream, and all of a sudden it was coming true. It was only three months but the experience of a lifetime."

During her time at Imagineering, Ms Abulhoul helped design some of the upcoming Walt Disney rides. Someone asked her to show her work: "It's all very confidential since they want to keep it a surprise," she said.

After graduating with a degree in animation from Zayed University, Ms Abulhoul decided to continue her education and pursue a degree in architecture at the American University of Dubai. She also currently works as an art director for Domus Events.

To this day, Ms Abulhoul has a fascination with animation and must get her daily fix of Disney cartoons, from which she often draws her inspiration. "It's like eating, breathing and sleeping," she said. "It's part of my daily routine."

Maryam Darwish, from Al Ain, also decided to pursue a non-traditional career, and broke gender stereotypes to do so.

She is one of the leading service advisers at Al Futtaim Motors' Lexus service centre in Dubai, where, on a normal day, she works on about 40 cars.

At the beginning of her career, Ms Darwish said, her parents were under the impression that she was doing office work. One day, as she was changing the oil filters on a car, someone from the media spotted her and asked her for an interview. Soon enough, her parents found out.

"They were shocked," she said. "They asked me, 'How can you be doing this kind of work?' For six months, my mother didn't speak to me.

"Later, many people started commending me for my work and, with time, my mom started to take pride in the work I do."

Despite her ongoing success, Ms Darwish said she still faced challenges on a daily basis. "At the very beginning, customers would be very sceptical when they see a female service adviser. They'd think, 'She's a woman, what does she know?'"

However, she said that with her hard work and dedication, she had developed a good reputation and now had many loyal customers. She called for all women to pursue their ambitions, regardless of gender stereotypes.

"A woman should not be afraid to pursue any job, even if [society] believes it's a man's job," she said."

mismail@thenational.ae