- Dutch native arrived in the UAE in 1964, and is known for having delivered all the babies in Fujairah and the East Coast
- Wilhelmina, known as Minie or Doctor Mona, set up the first hospital in Fujairah in 1967 with her friend Joan Elliott
- For her 87th birthday, Minie’s friends treated her with the ultimate adventure of paragliding in the Arabian Gulf
Fujairah: The rugged mountains, wadis and desert sand of the UAE’s eastern coast is a far cry from Holland’s canals, windmills and tulip fields. But after living in the UAE for 55 years, Fujairah is where Wilhelmina van de Weg calls home.
Fujairah has seen its landscape change, buildings rise and families grow since it transitioned from a territory in the Trucial States to an emirate in the federation, but the one constant in everybody’s life has been Wilhelmina, or Minie, as she prefers to be called.
Minie, 87, was born in Indonesia to Dutch parents in 1932 and after the war, moved back to Holland with her family. But her travels did not end there and Minie soon went to Scotland to gain her nursing and midwifery certificates in Glasgow. It was then, in 1964, that destiny led her to the UAE and she’s never looked back. Although now retired, Minie continues to be a well-loved and respected figure in the community as every family has at least one relative who was delivered at her clinic.
Minie’s achievements were also recently recognised by Lt. Gen. Shaikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, who took to Twitter to personally offer a message of appreciation.
“Many thanks to Dr. Wilhelmina from the Netherlands, and to all those who make others happy”.
Dressed in the traditional long-sleeved full-length dress known as a jalabiya, Minie welcomed Gulf News into her home and fondly shared the cherished memories that made her the strong, independent woman she is today, with her joie de vivre still as strong as ever.
“Joan Elliott and I left from England on a ship called the Ommenkerk on a long journey that took us to Rabat, Gibraltar, around Africa, then we reached Karachi, where we changed ships and continued on our Gulf journey from Muscat to Dubai,” she said.
Minie and Joan spent two years in Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah before receiving an invitation from the late ruler of Fujairah, Shaikh Mohammad Bin Hamad Al Sharqi, to set up the emirate's first clinic.
“From Dubai we took a pick-up truck and went to Sharjah, Ajman, and then we reached Fujairah. The journey from Dubai to Fujairah would take five hours if the track through Wadi Ham was in good condition, but sometimes it would take up to seven,” said Minie.
By 1967, Fujairah Maternity Hospital was established and word quickly spread about the duo, who soon became known as Doctor Mona and Doctor Joan. The healthcare centre was the first clinic that provided healthcare for Fujairah and the East Coast, and people would come from as far as Oman and Iran to receive treatment.
“In the early days, it was a different life. We came as a midwife and a nurse but people were coming to see us for diarrhoea, cuts and sore teeth. We weren’t prepared to receive all these people but we were the only ones at the hospital, and had no choice but to learn how to treat the patients,” she said.
“Apart from the heat for one to two months, we stayed here and liked it here.”
The two young women worked diligently every single day, so on those rare occasions of a day-off, Minie would grab the opportunity to explore the nature reserves and wadis, pick up shells from the beach, or take a stroll with her friend Dr Marijcke Jongbloed in search for flowers.
Working as a midwife in the late 1960s and early 70s was no easy task, especially when emergency cases arose.
In an excerpt from her book "Focus on Fujairah: Through Minie’s Lens 1964-2001", she describes the tedious process of how healthcare providers had to contact local authorities and request an airlift for patients to be transported to Dubai.
“The Trucial Oman Levies, which later became known as the Trucial Oman Scouts (TOS), were established in 1951. They provided internal security for the Trucial States. Essentially they were a British-led Arab police force. During the early years, we were able to contact the TOS for emergency airlifts. We would have to drive to Bithnah or Khor Fakkan where the TOS were stationed. It would take one hour to reach Bithnah, and at least as long to reach Khor Fakkan. From there the TOS would send a radio message to Dubai. Helicopters were sent from Dubai and would land inside the hospital grounds or just outside our compound walls.”
As Minie flicked through the 187 pages of her book, one particular photograph caught her eye; Khamis Ali Obaid standing on the hospital grounds next to his nine children, grinning from ear-to-ear as his wife posed next to him while carrying their tenth baby.
“Women would have many babies, so you would have a 60-year-old great grandmother, a 40-year-old and a 20-year-old; we had four generations in no time. It was not uncommon for women to have 10 babies and it was customary that when they had their tenth, the couple would hold a big party for everyone,” said Minie.
Even though Fujairah Maternity Hospital has since closed down and is now awaiting funds, Minie remains optimistic about the clinic’s future.
With a zest for life and a thirst for adventure, Minie continues to try out new experiences and is never one to shy away from new endeavours.
Her most recent adventure was taken only a few weeks ago, for her 87th birthday, when Minie’s friends treated her with the ultimate adventure of paragliding in the Arabian Gulf.
The entire feat was recorded by amazed onlookers, and the video soon went viral across social networking sites in the country.
“I just like to see nature and see different things and people. I like to explore and go out, call it nosiness or an adventurous spirit. I always wanted to see the world,” she said.
Another big treat for Minie was going on a speed boat to Khasab.
“I’ve always been sick on boats but I found out that I felt fine on speed boats, so my friends then organised a trip to Khasab for me. We were on the speed boat when it suddenly stopped. The others were discussing about where they should dive, but I didn’t want to do that, so I jumped off board and swam to shore,” she said.
“There are people in Dubai and Sharjah that have never seen the coast, all they want to see is the mall. If something looks interesting and you want to find out about it, do it. Go out and discover things. Don’t do what everybody does.”