Nardeen Faragalla believes health is a basic human right
UAE Portrait of a Nation: A dedication to easing the burden of poverty
It took a chronic mysterious illness, a trip to Kurdistan and a stint at the army for the daughter of a pastor to find her true calling.
Nardeen Faragalla, daughter of Pastor Joesph Faragalla, head of the Abu Dhabi Evangelical Churches, had an epiphany – “health is a basic human right and it should be accessible to everyone”. Helping people who live in extreme poverty is what she is now dedicating her life to.
Leaving her family and a comfortable life in Abu Dhabi behind, Nardeen quit her job at the Evangelical Church on Thursday and is heading off to help some of the world’s most vulnerable people. “I’m going to live in an orphanage in Egypt and volunteer there,” she said.
Nardeen was born in Abu Dhabi. But has pinged around the globe from the age of two, when her family moved to Cyprus for six years. They then moved again, this time to Egypt for three years.
“We came back to Abu Dhabi when I was 15 and stayed for four years and then moved to Canada for sixteen years,” she explained.
The move to Canada was motivated by a desire for better education.
In Canada, she did her bachelor degree in religion and theology then a masters of divinity in Old Testament. “I was going to be an Old Testament professor and then I got to the end of my master’s degree and felt like I needed to do something practical - I didn’t want to study anymore.”
Nardeen then did the unexpected, she joined the Canadian Army for four years.
An injury during a training exercise in September last year saw her leave the army and return to Abu Dhabi, where her family had resumed living.
In May she started training as a certified health coach and took a job at a church as a senior pastor’s P.A.
Then two things happened that became a turning point in her life. First, in April this year, she went on a four-day medical mission to a small village in Kurdistan. “I basically saw what happens when health becomes for the privileged and not for everybody.” Coming to terms with that she says was difficult. “It was an epiphany for me. It was a wake-up call,” she said.
Then, in the summer, she met Mamma Maggie – the Mother Teresa of Cairo – in Dubai.
Maggie Gobran, or Mama Maggie as she is commonly known, is the founder and CEO of the non-profit charity Stephen's Children in Egypt’s capital.
The Coptic Christian has dedicated herself to improving the lives of children and families living in Cairo's slums and impoverished communities in rural Upper Egypt. In 2012 Mamma Maggie was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She was among the five winners honoured with the Arab Hope Makers award by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid in February this year.
Mamma Maggie invited Nardeen to Egypt, to use her skills as a health coach at her ministry.
Nardeen then decided to volunteer at the Lillian Trasher Orphanage, which caters to 250 orphans. “At first I was talking to people in the organisation and teaching the basics: which are cut out processed food, sugar and eat naturally.” Next month Nardeen will be coaching the orphans as well.
“Egypt is in a state where it is very poor… a lot of people are getting chronic illnesses and auto immune diseases – things that can very easily be traced back to what people are eating and drinking,” she said. Nardeen believes it is a vicious cycle, poverty often translated into poor diet and then having to pay large sums of money for medical care.
She understands, from personal experience, how diet can affect health. Having suffered her entire life from headaches and numbness, doctors found the markers for an auto immune disease but could not diagnose or cure her.
It was only when she changed her diet and cut out processed food that her symptoms vanished. “I used to have chronic headaches for my entire teenage life and medication would not help. Just by eating natural (unprocessed food), I am not getting headaches any more. It works and I think that is the part that makes me so sad about the situation in Egypt. It is affecting them and people are not making the connection."
“There is work to be done but it is not impossible. It is slow but there are some people who listen,” she said.
Though Nardeen doesn’t expect to land in Egypt and suddenly transform everyone’s eating habits. “I’m taking it one step at a time,” she said.
Siblings: two – a younger and an older brother
One material item she can’t live without: her Kindle
Favourite book: "After the Bible, Knowing God” by J.I Packer
Role Model: Her dad