Shamma Al Kabani

UAE’s Golden Girl

At 13 years of age, Shamma Al Kabani had no idea what jiu-jitsu was. At 16, this Emirati schoolgirl had announced herself on the world stage and won a gold medal at the Jiu-Jitsu International Federation’s World Youth and Aspiration tournament. At 20, she made history at the 7th Asian Championship in Thailand retaining her gold and earning the label “Golden Girl” from UAE’s most decorated Jiu-Jitsu star Faisal Al Ketbi.

Shamma Al Kabani
Shamma Al Kabani Image Credit: Supplied

‘I first heard about Jiu-Jitsu when I was in 6th standard. My friends enrolled and I joined them just for fun,’ recalls Shamma. When all her classmates had dreams to become doctors and pilots, Shamma was unsure about what the future holds for her. All that changed when she was introduced to the sport through the Abu Dhabi Education and Knowledge’s Jiu Jitsu in Schools programme. Shamma remembers watching Emirati girls practicing the martial art form and ‘feeling a stirring deep inside me’. She recalls that time when she shared her interest in Jiu-Jitsu with her family. ‘I was the naughty kid in the family. When they realised that I was committed to taking Jiu-Jitsu seriously, they were very supportive and encouraged me to keep going,’ explains Shamma, who is quick to point out that her mother is her biggest cheer leader. Shamma’s interest grew to the point that she promised herself that she would earn the black belt and represent her country on the world stage.

Competing domestically for the Baniyas Club, part of Shamma’s promise was realised last year, just seven years after first taking the mat, when she won two bronze medals for the UAE National Team at the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama. She went on to strike gold at the Grand Slam competitions in Los Angeles and London as well as silver in the youth division at the Grand Slam in Tokyo.

A student of Emergency Management at Rabdan Academy, Shamma says that her very supportive faculty ensures that she maintains ‘a wonderful balance’ between her passion and academics. Competing on the world stage means that she must put in to 6-8 hours of practice every day. ‘My teachers have always supported me. Although I miss classes and have had to drop a course, representing my country at competitions is my priority. It’s a badge of honour for me,’ says the young champion who competed at the Jiu-Jitsu President’s Cup on her 20th birthday last month.

Lessons from the art

The martial art form has instilled in her commitment, discipline, to not shy away from challenges and to be respectful to everyone.

‘Every day is a new challenge. I am competing against very strong opponents, but nothing can dent the UAE team’s resilience. As a team, we are inspired to keep up the winning streak.’ Shamma says that she is lucky to have people supporting encouraging her to do better, but the road to reaching the world stage came with its challenges.

‘When I was training to be a professional fighter, I had many people who scorned at my choices and did not believe I could do it. I proved them wrong,’ smiles the young champion who has kept up her training even while fasting during Ramadan.

She feels proud that her win has inspired young women in the UAE to follow their dreams. ‘They are capable of doing everything they want; they just need to believe in themselves.’

Her training keeps her busy most of the time, but when she is not training or catching up with her studies, she loves to hang out with her friends, listening to music or go to the cinema.

She is now training for the Grand Prix Paris Open that will be held later this month.

Steven Suresh

President-Elect at King’s College London

Steven Suresh’s election manifesto reads – Steven’s Brewing TEA at KCLSU – Transparent, Empowering and Accountable leadership!

Born and raised in the UAE, this 21-year-old Indian expat, an alumnus of Dubai English Speaking College, is a second-year undergraduate of Philosophy, Political Science and Economics at Kings College London. Every student at Kings College is a member of the King’s College London Student’s Union (KCLSU), run by the students, for the students. ‘The elections took place in March and any student in the university can stand for the position of President and Vice President, the latter has five positions,’ says Steven, who will assume the role of President for the Student’s Union for a term of one year, beginning June.

This being a full-time job, Steven will take a year’s break from his studies and will receive an annual salary of about 26,000 pounds (around Dh1,20,380) for his services. Inspired by American billionaire investor and hedge fund manager, Ray Dalio, Steven wishes to pursue Finance after completing his third year at Kings College.

Steven Suresh
Steven Suresh Image Credit: Supplied

Racing to success

Steven recalls that it all began back in September 2021, during his first year at Kings when he founded the Formula 1 Society. With many Formula 1 enthusiasts at Kings, this society grew fast to over 800 students. While it was racing that the students in this society bonded over, Steven got to hear about the problems in the Student Union and the issues within the university that needed to be addressed. ‘The more I heard, the more I felt the need to do something about it, to be the change and the voice of the students.’ With the President of the Student Union holding the most power to influence this change, Steven decided to contest for the role of the President.

With five others contesting for this post in the university of about 45,000 students and over 100 nationalities, winning the election was no mean feat.

What gave him an edge over the other candidates?

‘I learnt that the Student Union was not doing enough for the students in relation to handling cases of sexual misconduct. I initiated the KCLSU campaign against sexual misconduct,’ recollects Steven. This campaign in his first year at Kings got him to not only get to know students across the university but also earn their trust by taking up their cause and working towards it. ‘I had focused on working on issues that the students were facing long before the presidential campaign. They could see that my work was genuine.’

As President, Steven will be the ambassador and external spokesperson for the student union. His role includes working with senior members of King’s College London, local government staff and officers, local MPs and stakeholders. Steven will lead the team of Student Officers and Student Counsellors, working closely with the Student Union’s senior management to ensure the organization is delivering its charitable purpose and working closely towards its vision and values. He will be trained by officials from the UK Government.

Steven has assumed various leadership roles in the school level and has been an active volunteer and team leader at the Al Noor Center in Dubai, “Leadership is something I have strived for, that is why I feel I can do justice to the role.”

For this Lewis Hamilton fan, juggling the election campaign and studies was a tough task. ‘I could not spend all my time campaigning as my exams were around the corner.’ Steven managed with three hours of sleep most nights. ‘My parents always reminded me to give my best to all that I did. It served me well,’ he quips. ‘And when you are responsible for 45,000 students, it is not something you take lightly.’

Leah Depala

Rising star in the music industry

Dubai-based British-Indian singer-songwriter, Leah Depala, is excited on the release of latest EP Stages in partnership with Universal Music MENA. With three singles under her belt and the Emirates Woman of the Year Award in the Young Talent category in 2019, this 17-year-old is clearly a rising star in the music industry.

Leah was always inclined to music, but it was after attending a Selena Gomez concert that she was inspired to write her own music. Mentored by Iranian singer, Layla Kardan, her first single Cold was produced by Ayham Hamsi. Leah was 13 when she heard her first song playing on the radio, ‘I was excited to hear my work getting airtime and even more because thousands of people were listening to it. I couldn’t process the emotions until after,’ recalls the student of Jumeirah College who says that it was not something a teenager like her would anticipate with her first number. ‘Layla was the first person to read my lyrics, give tips and pointers. At my first studio recording session that was nerve wracking for me, Layla sat with me to ensure that I perform to the best of my ability.’

LEAH DEPALA Image Credit: Supplied

Leah’s music is typically about hypothetically romantic situations that she likes to picture herself in. Stages has two songs - Freefall and Love Better. Freefall marks the start of falling into a relationship and Love Better skips all the way to the end of the relationship when they get to know each other very well. Leah Depala’s songs are available on music platforms including Spotify and Apple Music.

Leah is all smiles when she recalls her first stage performance. She had a guitarist accompanying her, and together they only practiced 3 hours a week. ‘We did not want to force it and wanted the performance to be as natural as possible.’ She compares going onstage to being on a roller coaster for ‘the anticipation before the performance is much more nerve wracking than the performance itself.’

It was Leah’s first performance outside of the school setting. ‘I was nervous for days leading into the performance, but the moment I got onstage, it all went away. I could only feel myself and the music,’ says Leah. She remembers that performance as a surreal experience after she had friends coming up onstage at the end of the performance to congratulate, hug her and gift her flowers. ‘I am eternally grateful for that support from them.’

It is five years since her first single. She is trying to strike a balance between her school and music life. When inspiration hits, she finds time to sit with her notes at the piano.

With her songs gaining popularity she agrees that there is pressure to perform more and perform better, but Leah does not wish to ruin her passion for music by forcing it on herself. For now, her priority is school as she has exams coming up. She plans to work on a few more singles later this summer.

Being in high school, she has often heard people tell her that her musical dream isn’t realistic and that she might not be successful. ‘I like to surround myself with people whom I love and want to see me succeed because ultimately that is where the drive comes from’

She finds inspiration in her mum, Dubai-based fashion designer, Ayesha Depala. ‘I admire her for her entrepreneurial skills, hard work and work ethic.’ She is grateful for her father, Dipesh Depala, co-founder of The Qode.

Leah plans to pursue a course in communication and digital media. ‘Music is my passion, it is my escape....’

Shrey Sethi

Captain of the U-16 UAE Cricket Team

When the Indian National Team won the World Cup in 2011, Dubai resident Shrey Sethi was five years old. He saw 1.3 billion people celebrate one win. ‘I was inspired. I told my parents I wanted to train to play cricket,’ reminisces the 16-year-old captain of the Under-16 UAE Cricket Team.

A 12th grader at GEMS Modern Academy, Shrey is excited about his team’s recent win where UAE emerged champions at the Asia Cricket Council Men’s Under-16 West Zone Cup hosted by Bahrain Cricket Federation at the Vision Cricket Centre Grounds in Sharjah. This being Shrey’s first international tournament, he calls it an “unbelievable experience” to represent UAE. ‘It was a U-16, six-nation tournament, but the Emirates Cricket Board made it feel like we were playing for the World Cup,’ quips the wicketkeeper batsman.

Shrey Sethi
Shrey Sethi Image Credit: Supplied

Captaining a tournament means that he has to be at his best from the start. ‘You want everyone to know you are leading from the front.’ Shrey says that it gets tough when the match is not going your way, but as a fan of former Indian captain MS Dhoni, he keeps his cool.

Shrey points out that winning and losing is part of any sport.

The interstate tournament held in 2022 was his biggest challenge. He was 15 and captaining the Under-16 team where most of his teammates were his senior.

‘When you are a young captain, you need to do something to get your team’s respect and trust.’ He recalls that he was on top of his game and had made a few smart changes that worked in the team’s favour. ‘We won every game up to the final. But in the final, the opposition was the better team. It was a tough loss, but I know I have to get up, learn from mistakes and move on,’ he explains.

He iterates that a challenge a player in any sport faces is when you are not doing as well as you should be doing. This could happen to the best of the players. ‘You need to step back and ask what am I doing wrong? You need to focus on the process and not the result,’ emphasises the cricketer who takes inspiration from star players from football and Formula One including Cristiano Ronaldo and Lewis Hamilton.

Learning to play a sport, representing UAE and captaining tournaments have inculcated in this young sportsman discipline, and a sense of responsibility, and has taught him to be the best version of himself on and off the field. ‘On the field there is a sense of responsibility to give your best to the game; but once I am off the field, I have the responsibility to give my best to my studies,’ explains the science student who scored an overall 90 per cent in his ICSE Grade 10 examination. He played two matches during his 10th grade board examinations. ‘I had a Council Game before my Math board exam. I was the captain and my coach, Salman Farooq, had placed his confidence in me. I couldn’t let him down. I couldn’t let my parents or my school down too as they always supported my decision, so I studied hard and trained hard,’ recalls Shrey.

His team won that match and he scored a 50.

He gave the Math paper the following morning and scored 92 per cent. With his distinction, Shrey decided to opt for the science stream with computer science.

‘When you are into sport, especially cricket, you have to love the challenge. It is tough to balance academics with sport, but I am happy with my choices,’ asserts Shrey. His love for cricket does not end at the field. During the Covid lockdown his brother, Parin Sethi, and he made an app called Crickicker available to download in all IOS and Android devices. ‘It is your personal cricket diary that allows you to track your cricket scores and calculate stats,’ explains Shrey.

Praanvi Gupta

World’s youngest yoga instructor

Indian expatriate Praanvi Gupta was three and a half years old when she took to practicing yoga after watching her mother do it. Her parents noticed her stamina and zeal for exercise during the 2018 Dubai Fitness Challenge 30x30 when Praanvi completed the 5km run with ease. Today, the seven-year-old holds the Guinness World Record for being the youngest yoga instructor.

The young yoga professional whose dream is to one day perform yoga before Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has been approved and certified as a RYT200 (Registered Yoga Teacher) by the Yoga Alliance Organization, after completing the 200-hour Yoga Training Course. This grade 2 pupil of GEMS Wellington International School now educates people on the art and philosophy of yoga through her YouTube channel, Learning With Praanvi, and weekly free online sessions conducted twice a week. ‘I am proud and excited to spread the word of yoga to everyone,’ quips the prodigy.

PRAANVI GUPTA Image Credit: Supplied

Praanvi is no stranger to breaking records.

She was five when she was named ‘Grand Master’ in the Asia Book of Records for reciting 195 countries (UN recognized) in correct alphabetical order, along with their capitals in 4 minutes and 23 seconds. ‘The idea was to keep her busy during the summer break,’ recollects her mother, Priyanka Gupta. ‘We gave her a list of countries and capitals and we noticed that she was learnt it very fast. We worked on her timings, and she did it.’

At the age of 6 she entered the International Book of Records and bagged the title, “Fastest to recite 10 longest English words and their spellings by a kid.” She recited the 10 words with their spellings in 81 seconds. This included the longest word in the English dictionary: pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicov- olcanoconiosis.

A bibliophile who loves to read, she is also good in her academics. She won the gold medal for her performance in the International English Olympiad. ‘I like to give my best in everything I do. It is a lot of hard work, but I like to dream big,’ says Praanvi.

Yoga also happened during a summer break. ‘As working parents, we wanted Praanvi to use her time productively. She expressed an interest in yoga, so we put her into regular classes at Vedic Yoga Center, Bur Dubai,’ recollects her mother.

The teachers noticed that she not only picked up the postures better but also helped others in the class. Her teachers, Dr. Vincent Earth Kottayil and Dr. Surya, suggested that she enrol for the Yoga Teachers Training Course. Training to be a yoga instructor involved perfecting postures as well as theory that primarily comprised anatomy and structure. ‘It was difficult to continue with the course after school reopened. I had to dedicate a lot of evenings and weekends to practice and prepare for the test at the end of the course,’ recalls Praanvi. She flips the pages of her notes written in neat detail alongside illustrations. ‘I love to read and draw. My teachers at the yoga centre spared a lot of time to help me understand better.’

A few books on body, bones and muscles also aided her learning.

The young yoga instructor who is inspired by Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai and the former president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, is now taking an advanced course in yoga that involves complex postures.