Abu Dhabi: Over the past 17 years, the prestigious Abu Dhabi Award, the emirate’s highest civilian honour, has recognised 92 people who have worked to uplift the lives and wellbeing of residents. From special needs volunteers to distinguished military officers, from expats working to catalog the UAE’s history to Emiratis with a penchant for invention, the award has highlighted goodness in all its forms.
But how has the award impacted their lives in all this time? Are they continuing the pursuits for which they gained recognition?
With the nomination period for the award’s 11th edition currently underway, Gulf News caught up with some previous winners to see where they are today.
Theban Salem Al Mheiri
Theban Salem Al Mheiri, an Emirati paralympic sportsman and police administrator, received his Abu Dhabi award in 2017. The recognition came for his lifetime of advocacy for inclusivity, and efforts towards creating a better society for people of determination.
Injured in a traffic accident in 1994, Al Mheiri told Gulf News his life is split neatly in two - life before the accident and life after it.
“I was headed to the United States to further my education, and remember being in a car headed to the airport. The next thing I know, I was in a hospital, and I had no control over my lower body,” Al Mheiri told Gulf News.
Grappling with the new consequences of his life, Al Mheiri said he eventually decided not to let the accident feel like the end.
“Being in a wheelchair didn’t have to be the end of my life. And this is the message I have worked to spread to every person living with determination,” Al Mheiri said.
Prior to receiving the award, Al Mheiri had already set up the UAE Paralympic team, and served as secretary for the UAE Disabled Sports Federation. He had also worked closely with the Al Ain Club for the Disabled for over a decade. Moreover, he had attained success as a paralympic discus thrower.
Today: It’s been more than five years since the recognition, but Al Mheiri hasn’t lost his focus.
“I approach anyone and everyone with a disability, and try to engage them in meaningful efforts. This is what I do. I tell anyone with a disability that I lived life when I was ‘able’, but that my life after my disability gained much more value because of how I decided to look at it,” Al Mheiri said.
Most recently, Al Mheiri worked with the UAE’s national paralympic sporting teams headed to the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Brazil, and the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
“We won seven medals in Brazil, and three in Tokyo. For me, it is rewarding to see other people with disabilities find their purpose in life. I’ve seen more and more Emiratis and expats living with disabilities discover their potential, and it is the work I intend to continue,” he said.
Farah Al Qaissieh
Farah Al Qaissieh is well known today for her pioneering efforts in supporting people who live with a stutter. Her struggles with her own stutter prompted the Emirati to launch the support group nine years ago for a condition that is not understood, let alone appreciated.
“I grew up with a speech impediment, and it made me an introvert. I remember thinking it was the worst day of my life when in seventh grade, a teacher called on me on the spot to speak up. And in university, I always looked for big groups of people so that I never had to say much,” Farah said, explaining how conscious she had felt all her life.
As a working professional, Farah finally came across another person with a stutter.
“I had always felt like a stutter was something only my brother and I struggled with, so meeting someone else with the same ‘disorder’ made me feel less alone. And that’s when my colleague and I launched the Stutter UAE community,” she said.
Today: Stutter UAE today boasts 120 active members, including people from across the GCC and elsewhere. The community still holds its monthly gatherings, which went virtual during the pandemic, and organises a community event every year on October 22, which is marked internationally as Stutter Awareness Day.
In addition, Farah, who also works as an Emiratisation executive, plans to open up a speech therapy centre by the end of the year.
“Stutter UAE will continue to be a safe space for people who live with the speech impediment, and I will continued to spread awareness about the condition through it. On the other hand, the therapy centre will help people who want to work on conquering their stutter,” she said.
“The Abu Dhabi Award assured me that I was on the right path with my efforts, and I will continue working to make heard the voices of people who stutter.”
Dr Taisser Atrak
A dedicated paediatrician, Dr Taisser Atrak first moved to Abu Dhabi in 2008. Within three years, he had been honoured with an Abu Dhabi Award for his passionate efforts to ensure child safety.
“In my position, I saw numerous children injured in circumstances that were entirely preventable. Falls from balconies, heat exhaustion in vehicles, injuries sustained because a seat belt hadn’t been used – these were things we could change,” Dr Atrak said.
He therefore developed an awareness campaign on the safety of children in traffic, at home and at school, which has operated since 2008. The programme provides participants with training for basic first aid, CPR for families and the fundamentals of child car safety. He also spearheaded the distribution of 1,000 car seats through Mafraq and its partners.
Today: Dr Atrak shows no signs of slowing down, and still regularly volunteers his time and funds to train caregivers in child safety.
“We saw the UAE enacting a law on car safety in 2017 that also mandated the use of age-appropriate car seats for children four years and younger. Other regulations made school transport providers accountable for child safety. My dream, meanwhile, is to have every nanny trained and certified in basic safety skills, because I believe this will greatly reduce the rate and severity of preventable injuries,” he said.
“I save lives for a living, and my Abu Dhabi Award puts even more responsibility on me. I have to give more and more to the community I serve.”
Abdul Muqeet Abdul Mannan
This young Indian boy is widely known as the youngest recipient of the Abu Dhabi Award till date. When he was presented with it in 2011, Abdul Muqeet Abdul Mannan was just about 10 years old.
Then a student at an Abu Dhabi school, Abdul Mannan had created carry bags made up of discarded newspapers, and distributed about 4,000 of them among the community.
Today: Abdul Mannan has since spoken at a number of notable events, calling for a commitment to sustainability clean environment. Now a university student, Abdul Mannan said he is still doing his bit to support the UAE’s transition to a society free of single-use plastics.
“I’ve signed up with the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi’s campaign to educate groceries and stores about the hazards of single-use plastics. And although I am planning to specialise in cyber security, I am continuing to look for ways I can merge my passion for environment with my training as a computer engineer,” he said.
Dr Essam Eldin ElShammaa
Dr Essam Eldin ElShammaa is a well-loved member of the capital’s medical community, and his recognition with an Abu Dhabi Award in 2019 could only be called inevitable.
The British medical expert is one of the founders of Abu Dhabi’s famed maternity facility, Corniche Hospital, and he began his career there in 1977. An expert in medical imaging, especially in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology, Dr ElShammaa developed the hospital’s radiology department, and dedicated his life to patient care. Quite naturally, he is also famed as the first doctor in Abu Dhabi to use an ultrasound machine.
His commitment to the profession led to the renaming of the Radiology Department at the Corniche Hospital to ‘Dr El Shammaa Imaging Department’.
Despite multiple achievements during his long years in the UAE, Dr El Shammaa said receiving the Abu Dhabi Award from President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan as the most memorable.
“Being honoured by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed made my career [of more than 55 years], and my life, worthwhile... I cannot ask for a more honourable recognition,” he said.
What next: Dr ElShammaa is today a consultant at Corniche Hosptial, and he lends his management and clinical advice to both doctors and patients at the hospital.
“I am still mentally active, and I can still give advice to my patients. So here I am,” he said.
The doctor added that his dream is to see an international medical research centre in the UAE.
“It is a dream I have so that the research that is conducted here has international recognition and acceptance. There is no progress in medicine without research, and there is a need for a proper research centre in the medical industry,” Dr ElShammaa said.