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In the UAE, many residents opted for cyber learning during the pandemic. Image Credit: Shuterstock

Dubai: In the last six months when the world almost came to a halt, while people were staying indoors, many found a chance to find the silver lining beneath the grim COVID-19 pandemic cloud and turn the adversity into a major opportunity.

It’s Carpe Diem time

With minimum socialising, job cuts, work from home, people suddenly had slashed commute time, had to learn to fill in long empty hours and were able to turn inward, find the time to do some introspection, reassess life goals, enrol for self-improvement classes and life-skill enhancing courses from around the world.

Professional training institutes from around the world were offering different kind of short certification courses online and optimists were able to sweep aside depression and seize the chance. In the UAE, many residents opted for cyber learning and completed courses that are now about to change their lives forever.

Learning the nuances of nutrition

Ritu Malhotra

A great cook, who often wondered about striking the right nutritional balance, while courting her taste-buds, Indian expatriate Ritu Malhotra decided to enrol into intensive nutrition certification courses and successfully completed a course in Basic and another in advanced nutrition and is onto her third in Intermittent Fasting (IF). Feeling thrilled about the achievement, Malhotra told Gulf News: “I am a gourmet when it comes to food and am very conscious about healthy eating. I wanted to do these courses and during the last six months, Universities like Stanford were offering online courses at such discounted rates. With a complete step back from socialising or stepping out and my husband working from home, I found the time to enrol in these courses consecutively.”

The courses were intensive with a lot of learning and absorption and also tests every weeks and Malhotra discovered her inner student in the last six months. “It was such a stimulating experience Most of us are out of the examination mode, but here I was taking instructions, absorbing the knowledge, writing, reading, revising and appearing for tests and examinations online. It was very intensive, but I think now I am ready to disseminate this knowledge and be a full-fledged nutritional coach,” said Malhotra, who was able to recently able to design the perfect diet for her close friend’s daughter. “This young girl was under stress due to examinations and eating the wrong things. Her metabolism was affected but with my advice and guidance she was able to keep up her energies as well as knock off several pounds of weight,” added Malhotra.

Fulfilling a long cherished ambition

Michelle Robertson

A British-Canadian expatriate living in Ras Al Khaimah, Michelle Robertson, a mother of three — two boys aged 8, 2 and a one year old daughter — is on the way to fulfilling her long cherished dream of writing a full-fledged novel, thanks to an online creative writing course with Dubai-based literary writer, Karen Osman. Robertson enrolled on to the 8-week online course: ‘How to kick-start your book” and has already written 5,000 words. She hopes to publish her first novel by September 2021.

A freelance writer by profession, Robertson who has been in the UAE since 2007, moved with her husband Henry and three kids to RAK, towards the end of 2019, a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded. She told Gulf News: “In 2019, after my third baby was born, we moved to Mina al Arab in RAK. When the lockdown started, I signed up for the book writing course. I needed something other than kids to keep my sanity as I wasn’t working. I was taking a work break to be with my young children. However, as I had always wanted to be an author, I was inspired by Karen and took the plunge.”

Robertson found time to be the course work when her kids were napping. “In the night when they are in bed, I would listen to the modules and do the assignments. I had extra help so I was lucky, my mother in law from UK had come over but got stuck here for 4 months so she helped look after my kids most days. Our move from Dubai to RAK was amazing as we managed to save half our housing allowance and get a bigger house next to the beach.”

She continued: “I had had my idea for a book for five years but with everything going on I decided it was now or never. I started the course with an idea and now three months later I’m 5,000 words into my first manuscript. I still have 75,000 to go but I have my plot and have developed my characters and feel ready to push on. If all goes to plan I intend to send it out to editors by April 2021 with a dream to see it published and in the stores by the end of next year. My book is entitled ‘The story of Hope’. Writing for me was an escape, a bit of quiet at a time when I could focus on myself and my needs,” said this happy and contented writer just about to debut on the writing scene.

Writing from the heart

Eithne Treanor

A busy international broadcast journalist and producer, Irish expatriate Eithne Treanor also joined Karen Osman’s 8-week writing course to be able finally get down to writing her first novel. At work, Treanor got busy on the double as she realised there were more meetings to attend online during the lockdown then she physically did earlier. But she decided to follow her heart too and kick-start the creative writing process within her. She said: “Since my early childhood, I always wanted to be a writer. Becoming a TV news producer, writer and reporter, I managed to fulfil this desire for the most part, but I’ve always wanted to write a book, a novel, a big story. This is my notion of “real” writing. I have a few book ideas, two wonderful ideas for novels based on people I knew and I’m working on a book about impactful communications.”

Treanor said she loved Karen’s approach to writing, “I’ve had my book idea for a while, but as I explored it in more detail, Karen has really helped me to bring life to the pages and to see the magic of the story unfold. I can finally begin to clearly see the adventure, the love, the humour and the tragedy all find their rightful place in the story,” said Treanor who says her story is slightly delayed and still unfolding. “Life gets in the way . in the nicest possible way … as we are all busy with interesting work and projects. However, I’m learning that my book writing project is as important as my other client work and I am slowly making time and revisiting the project to help bring the first draft to completion,” said a very optimistic Treanor.

Time out to achieve one of life’s ardent dreams

Donna Barbecho

Donna Barbecho, 35, a Filipina expatriate wanted to be a nurse for as long as she remembers. But in her hurry to support her family, she never really found the time and four years ago took up a job in the client servicing team for a popular cinema group in the UAE. “For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a registered nurse, but had found no time to study for this course,” said Barbecho who suddenly found she had time on her hands when she lost her job and had a few months before she joined her new job. Barbecho enrolled in Philippines-based nursing assistant course at Al Rigga Road, Dubai and actually invested most of her savings in that.

“I had to go to the institute once a week and the six month course was costing Dh1,500. Luckily, I had to pay only Dh300 per month. So I took up a new job in a supermarket as a cashier and am managing my time to complete this course,” said Barbecho, who is not only doing course work but some practical training all in her weekend to be able to fulfil her dream. “This course will provide me the basic qualifications to be an assistant to a nurse, which means, I will be able to do a few things like taking vital parameters, administering medicines etc. I will eventually have to supplement the course with first-aid, emergency medicine training. But I am glad this period during COVID-19 gave me the time and the good sense to enrol in this course,” said Barbecho, who plans to move to a health care job once she has her certification.

When a pandemic is brought on, a poet is born

Naziha Niyaz Anas

Despite the challenges of home schooling for three boys, aged 10, 8 and 4 years and attending to a husband working from home, Abu-Dhabi-based Sri Lankan expatriate Naziha Niyaz Anas was able to revive her love for poetry writing during the lockdown. Anas, 36 told Gulf News, she wrote her first poem at the age of 18. “However, with my job as a schoolteacher, then marriage and birth of my children gave me no time to open a book and write a few lines. She often tried writing a few poems, like the one she wrote for her eldest son’s nursery teacher five years ago and some more later. But the pandemic became a real trigger.

“The manner in which the world was taken by a storm during this pandemic once again triggered my passion to write,” said Anas. In March, she penned her first poem of this phase, for the grade 5 class teacher of her older son Ajmal at the GEMS Winchester School Abu Dhabi. “ I want to thank the teacher for her dedication and the poem was much appreciated by the school,” said Anas.

“Suddenly I began writing about everything I saw — the fear during the pandemic, the pain of people, challenges of e-learning at home. I would just key in the verses as they came to me on her phone. I wrote eight poems during the lockdown. I would put the boys to bed and in the night get some ‘me time’ to go through the verses I had keyed in and edit these,” said Anas who is looking to publish her poems soon.

Her poem on the COVID-19 pandemic is particularly poignant where she says; “People in thousands start becoming sick ... Suddenly Disney is out of magic and Paris is no more romantic ...

She goes onto describe the havoc wreaked worldwide by COVID -19 and ends on a note of optimism: “Let’s hope the broken world will fall back into its place with a fix ...” something that resonates with every soul on this earth today.

Completing 400 hours of life coaching in record time during lockdown

Ruqya Khan

Indian expatriate Ruqya Khan, a Master practitioner in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), a hypnotherapist and time line coach, found the time during the last six months to acquire greater proficiency in life coaching. What would have taken 15 months to complete, Khan went on to complete over 400 life coaching hours from the US-based International Coaching Federation in five months.

She said: “I completed 443 hours of coaching between March 15 and now. The nature of my work entails that I am often away from my desk to conduct mindset training workshops regionally & internationally. The lockdown became my motivation to meet someone new from different parts of the world and work consistently with them as a Life Coach to support them with challenges they were facing in terms of mindset, relationships, healthy boundaries, time management, etc. I am working towards the Professional Certified Coach (PCC level), which is the second level of certification by the International Coach Federation. My mantra to do the work even on hard days was that I will be ready when the world is ready; now more than ever we need a mindset of growth to support ourselves and others.”

Meet a 7-year-old Instagram star

A seven-year-old Dubai girl has taken to social media to tell about her adventures in the city and all things she does to stay creative and productive despite the pandemic.

Aisha Zoe

Aisha Zoe, born and raised in Dubai and now in Grade 3, has an Instagram account, @zoeetales, which is monitored by her mom Asha Nachi. Through her account, she tells about her adventures in Dubai, beating the blues of the pandemic. She told Gulf News: “I have always loved to make videos and take pictures of things I liked. I made videos when I got bored, and my mum used to give me ideas and we used to send them to my grandparents. It was such a relief for them and then I started to document most of experiences in the UAE.”

He mother added: “With her social media account, she wants to inspire kids her age to follow their dreams and do what their heart says.”

Zoe also loves to read stories and she has penned a children’s book, based on her own experience as young kid and older sibling to a three-old year sister. Zoe said wants to become an artist, doctor, teacher, chef, DJ, designer and an actress someday.