Sarah Abdallah
Sarah Abdallah, is a Dubai-based social media influencer, seen here with her two children, Olivia (left) and Christian (right). Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: In 2011, Sarah Abdallah was 22 years old, and was bedridden for nine months because of a high-risk pregnancy. She was alone in a new city and her only friend was her husband.

Jump to 2023, the Dubai-based Tunisian expatriate is now a mum to healthy 12-year-old twins and has a booming Instagram account under the moniker @dubaiprettyladies, with over 500,000 followers.

“I went from having zero friends to now having a social community of thousands of women who inspire and motivate me every day,” she said to Gulf News.

One glance at her Instagram, and you will find pictures of her in the latest couture pieces. However, Abdallah isn’t famous for being the typical fashion influencer. She is the ambassador for the Rashid Centre for People of Determination and a strong supporter of the Emirates Red Crescent (ERC).

“I want to give back to Dubai, it has given me everything. It’s the city of dreams. It has done so much for me, the least I can do is use my little power on social media.”

Her “little power” ended up creating a charity drive, which donated over 2,000 clothes from Ounass, a UAE-based online luxury retailer, for the victims of the Turkey-Syria earthquake earlier this year, along with Dh60,000 of her earnings, from Instagram collaborations, to ERC.

‘The women of the UAE taught me how to become a woman’: Abdallah’s journey from a lonely young woman to finding her tribe

A 21-year-old Sarah Abdallah left behind her family in Tunisia and arrived in Dubai to work at a prominent local TV station to work with the production and direction team.

After two hours at her new job, she met her future husband, Pascal Abdallah.

In six months they were engaged, and three months after that, they were married.

“I came here as a young girl, and I had all this ambition and drive, but I didn’t work for 14 years. However, during those years, I was able to create a strong circle of friends, which later expanded into a community.

“I learnt how to become a woman, in the true sense of the word, because of the women of the UAE.”

Sarah Abdallah
“I came here as a young girl, and I had all this ambition and drive, but I didn’t work for 14 years. However, during those years, I was able to create a strong circle of friends, which later expanded into a community."

From a small social group to a full-fledged community – how ‘Dubai Pretty Ladies’ became a force to be reckoned with

Abdallah saw that her small group of friends was becoming bigger, so she decided to create ‘Dubai Pretty Ladies’ to highlight the women of Dubai and their diversity.

She created a Facebook account and WhatsApp group, in the hopes it would attract more women and become a full-fledged social group.

“I just wanted the light on what women in Dubai are doing, what’s happening around us, and we used to participate in a lot of charity events to raise funds.”

It was only in the last four years that Abdallah upped her social media game and decided to take it seriously, and at the same time, she went back to her passion – filmmaking, and founded her own production house – ‘SA Production’ to create and produce content on social media.

“When I started working, I realised I want to give as well. I just didn’t want to post a picture with a nice outfit and that’s it. I knew I could do something bigger.

“I started collaborating with many brands, and I convinced them to be a part of my charity initiatives, and help me help other people.”

"I just didn’t want to post a picture with a nice outfit and that’s it. I knew I could do something bigger."

How Abdallah got involved with the Rashid Centre for People of Determination

Abdallah was always active in raising funds for charity, as a socialite, but decided to put her newfound fame on Instagram to good use.

“I first started, four years ago during Ramadan, to do a campaign with the Rashid Center for People of Determination, and I convinced Ounass to donate clothes. I went to the centre to hand them out. While I was there, I wanted to spend more time with the kids and share my voice,” she said.

“Social media doesn’t need to be where you show your clothes, your style or your sponsored content. It can be a place for awareness, education and inspiring people.”

Donating over 2,000 clothes to victims of the Turkey-Syria earthquake

In February 2023, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Turkey and Syria. Abdallah was deeply affected by the havoc the earthquake caused.

She called up Mariam Othman, the CEO of Rashid Centre, and wanted to help with the donations.

“In this stage, you need to work with the authorities or with a non-governmental organisation (NGO), you can’t do this by yourself.”

Othman got back to her and said Rashid Centre was partnering with Emirates Red Crescent, and the kids at the centre would be donating their clothes for the victims of the earthquake.

“I felt overwhelmed and emotional, seeing these kids going out of their way and donating. They have limited resources and still, they are giving back.”

Not only were the people of Syria suffering from the catastrophic destruction of the earthquake but were also braving a deadly winter.

“I reached out to Ounass again to donate winter clothes for men, women and children, and the stock arrived at Rashid Centre. They pooled in their stock from UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, and managed to donate over 2,000 clothes.”

During the donation drive, Mohammed Al Yamahi, Director of the Emirates Red Crescent Center, was also in attendance, and Abdallah wanted to reach out to ERC to do more for the victims of the earthquake.

Abdallah knew she had more to give and did not want to stop.

“It wasn’t just about providing clothing, these people lost everything, and it will take them forever to get back on their feet. I had more left to do. I couldn’t just stop there.”

Ramadan 2023: Abdallah donated her entire earnings for one month to the Turkey-Syria earthquake victims with the help of Emirates Red Crescent

“Ramadan is time for reflection, prayer and giving back. I decided for this year’s Ramadan not to earn any money from my collaborations, and give all the earnings to ERC to help the people in Syria.”

At first, Abdallah was wary if ERC would approve of her unconventional fundraising method, but they loved the idea.

“I reached out to any brand that wanted to work with me during Ramadan, and sometimes I would actively contact the brands, to come join my initiative.”

She went through all the legalities, and ERC issued a campaign licence for her to raise funds, and labelled it ‘ERC x DPL’.

“I reached out to Arab designers and said I’m happy to give you free content for the entire month of Ramadan. I produced and created everything.

“It wasn’t just me posing in their new collections, each post had a message and purpose.”

The entire project was funded by Abdallah, and not a single penny was used from the brands she partnered with. Instead of compensation, she would send designers the link to her ERC fund.

“I want to show everyone that I’m not just a fashion influencer, I can also help people. I also wanted to show the younger generation that you can use your platform and clout to change lives.”

Her whole community of women supports her and this came to fruition last year.

“I came up with an idea to take the students from Rashid Centre outside and offer them an experience. I’ve been visiting the school for quite some time now and I have built relationships there. I feel like I have extended my family.”

Abdallah decided to use her connections and provide the students at Rashid Centre with a day they will never forget.

“I contacted my friend, who is the owner of Al Marmoom Stable and has a farm where People of Determination can go horse riding. People of Determination have a special bond and connection with horses.

“She came back to me and provided the entire facility for the day.”

For Abdallah, this wasn’t enough, and she wanted to go bigger.

Her fashion friends, who are the founders of party planning event services, ‘Cheeky Monkey’ and ‘Happy Moments’ pitched in.

“They were there the whole day with the team setting up the event, putting up the decorations, organising games and activities, they were working non-stop.”

She also got a hold of another woman from her social group, Huda, the owner of a catering service ‘Who’s Cookin’ to provide food, snacks, and refreshments for the kids. Ounass provided gift bags.

“I felt so proud because it wasn’t just me. I could persuade these powerful and busy women to come together for a cause. These women didn’t just donate money, they showed up for the kids. They were there the whole time, playing and interacting with the kids.

“They could have just sent their teams, but no, they wanted to be there.”

Seeing these successful women taking the time out of their day and working together to create a memorable day for the children at Rashid Centre, is why Abdallah created ‘Dubai Pretty Ladies’.

After a few weeks, the Rashid Centre honoured her and the other women involved in the event.

“Mariam [CEO of Rashid Centre] saw the smile on the kids’ faces after the event, and wanted to honour me and the women involved.”

Creating uniforms and building a second floor for a school for autistic children in Lebanon - National Autism Community (NAC)

“I have always been involved with National Autism Community (NAC) in Lebanon.

“My first direct initiative ever was for NAC. I organised a luncheon of over 100 women at my house. I told the invitees to not get me any gifts, and instead donate to NAC Lebanon.”

For Abdallah, NAC, which is an NGO for Autistic children, hits closer to home because her husband is Lebanese and it’s located in his hometown, Jdeideh. NAC needs all the help that it can get to stay afloat.

“There are 70 kids currently in the school, but the waiting list has over 100 children. Either the family can’t afford to pay the minimum fee or the school does not have the capacity to accommodate them.

“My recent donation to the school was providing the funds for building a second floor to enrol more students.”

Last summer, Abdallah shot an awareness video for NAC with the children at the school. While she was there, she realised the students did not have a uniform.

She decided to step in and provide them with uniforms. She found a factory in Dubai and provided uniforms for the winter. Abdallah hopes to do much more, especially for the city and the people in it, who have helped her realise her hopes and dreams.

“The women I met in Dubai have seen me grow and I wouldn’t be here without them – they are my real inspiration.”