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« An opportunity only comes once in a lifetime », Touch of Hope was hers.

Publié le par Kyradubai

« An opportunity only comes once in a lifetime », Touch of Hope was hers.

Lamya Al Darmaki is the President of Touch of Hope, a charity set up to grant wishes to sick children. This young lady –in her 20’s- is symptomatic of the spirit of the girls of her generation : highly educated, ambitious, and willing to make a difference. Maybe « not save the world » but contribute to her country’s unique growth and more importantly, give back. INTERVIEW.

We met in Lamya’s parents’ house in Al Ain. She invited me to spend the day with her and meet her family, giving me a glimpse of Emiratis’ inner sense of hospitality and generosity. I entered a massive and luxurious house –which had once been a very simple one before the country exploited oil- with a touch of French Empire style: stucco and ceiling moldings, gildings, baroque furniture, a night blue and gold velvet sofa, heavy velvet curtains with trimmings and silk carpets. We sat in the women’s milas (the Emirati version of majlis, the reception room) in a deep and cosy sofa and before she started telling me about Touch of Hope, I was offered a sour Arabic coffee followed by a sweet made of date and flour, a fresh juice, and tea with milk. Then came a platter of margouga (a dish made of chickplant, eggplant and bread), khamirs (little buns) with date jam, balalit (sweet noodles), danjo (chick pees) and chebab (little pancakes served with cream cheese). I look at Lamya and I see a very soft and caring young lady. Ladylike, she got herself ready for our interview. She’s pampered and has strong make up: traditional khol, thick powder and a mandarine colored lipstick. Her sheila is loose and her abaya colorfoul.

How did you come up with Touch of Hope ?

Touch of Hope has been part of my life since 2009. I have my own job as a system engineer in aerospace. Touch of Hope is the other part of my life. It started as a student association at Univesity. I always say that an opportunity comes once in a lifetime, and you have to grab it. My dream was always to have an organization so this was my opportunity. I shared the dream with 32 students and it became 32 dreams. We have different ideas but we mainly decided to go for chronic diseased children (diabetes, cancer, dawn syndrome, autism…)

What makes Touch of Hope different ?

People had attention on different areas but none of the organizations focused on just children. We started collecting wishes among children. A little bit like Make a Wish Foundation. We had to pass by the parents so they would agree on putting the wishes on line. But when we collect the wishes we try not to have the child with the parents, they affect them with their own wishes. Most of them are bikes, Ipads, Ipods… Little stuff. We post their wishes on line, people log to the website, choose a wish, contact us and get to meet the child and give the gift directly. It is addictive really ! We have people who come again and again ! Some fulfilled ten wishes in a month. That was amazing to see !

Tell us about the children ?

The children are real warriors. They are much stronger than we are. We get so miserable and depressed by little stuff. They go through a lot but they are still smiling. They have that strength in them.

How did Touch of Hope evolve ?

After 2009, we started to change a little our path. We decided not only to do wishes but get into the society and promote volunteer work. Anyone wiuth a talent, journalist, photographer, artist, can contact us. We decide on a theme, on a case, on an hospital. We go and organize an event there. The first one was a photographer who organized a photoshoot. We set up the hospital with photoshoot items. The children were so happy. Just seeing the process of being special. A baker contacted us for Mother day. They made cupcakes. The children wanted to give something for their mothers but they don’t have a chance to go out. They wanted to do something with their own hands. There was also a clown volunteer.

Are there a lot of sick children ?

We spoke to one of the doctors there and I was very shocked. Cancer is becoming like the flue. From one day to the other, all the children are different.

You are also trying to foster volunteer spirit among youngsters ?

Yes. We started student associations in all the schools and universities because this generation has to learn how to give and most of them have a lot of talents but they don’t know how to give them out as a volunteers. The first student association started at HCT (High College of Technology) in Sharjah. They already granted a lot of wishes to the kids. We give them the chance to operate as they like. It gives them the ability to experience the whole vlunteer world. I don’t give them any limits. They go to the hospice as well in Dubai, to visit old people and children in Sharjah.

Do you feel it is important to promote such values in a very very materialistic society?

A child with extra time should try to make it valuable, build something. I am trying to grow that seed in them. When they are young it will grow with them.

Is it part of your culture and religion to be charitable ?

This is how we grew here. That’ why we like our Sheikhs because they believed in the young people of the UAE. We were just a student association, no one knew about ut. A famous company owner – I don’t want to mention his name- heard about Touch of Hope. He knew other Sheikhs. As soon as they heard about what we were doing, they contacted us. They believe in the simplest stuff. They believe in giving. That’s enough for us to give more, move on. It’s worth it.

Tell us about your team ?

We started the events a year ago. We have five members. Touch of Hope is not Lamya’s, that would be unfair. Without them this would not happen. This is ours. This is what I try to teach the younger generation. We also have young very young volunteers as young as 7 years old.

Why did you come up with this idea ?

It was a dream. My first two inspirations are my Mum and Dad. My Mum is a giver. Even if we have lunch or diner, half of the food is divided and given to the poor. I sit for hours with my father and he gives a lot even to people we don’t know about. If this strong man can do it, why can’t we ? We have everything. Why can’t we give back to the people ? We believe that every thing you give out just comes back to you.

Tell us about your familiy values ?

When I feel sad, I go to the hospital and it gives me something priceless. A lot of parents contact us and tell us they don’t want anything but they just need to be listened at. It means a lot to me. I am not a psychologist and I tell them I will not be able to help. But they just need someone to hear, to care. Sometimes children have passed away, but the parents still contact us. Maybe because we do things for the love of the child.

Tell us about your family ?

We come from Al Ain. My grandfather, Mbarak bin Fader Al Mazroui, used to work with Sheikh Zayed. He was like his second hand. My father was a very strong, stubborn man. At the time, there were not many possibilities. My father was a trader, a fisherman. He did a lot of different jobs. He is 80 years old. Thirty years ago, there was not much in the UAE. It was a very tough life. But the families were stronger, close together. We had to help each other if you wanted to survive. The climate is too hard. My father and grandfather spoke their mind. They have strong characters. My Mum met him very young, she has ten children.

You all inherited this strong will ?

My brother who works at the Embassy in London is a shoe designer. Darmaki is his company. If we have the passion, they will support us in everything. This comes from Sheikh Zayed. He had that thing in him. When he wanted to build the UAE, no one believed in him. This is desert but he said I will build it. He used to plant even with the workers because he had that belief, this vision.

Does your father tells you about the life at that time ?

He always says that it was hard. But every period in life has its own beauty. Everything was hard. This (showing her house) was nothing, just a small house. My Mum used to get the water from the well with a big jar on top of her head. She used to cook and raised six children in the heat. There were tough days.

Is it difficult to imagine ?

Yes because so much has changed since then. Before the girls were not allowed to study. Sheikh Zayed insisted for them to study…

What did you study ?

Computer system engineering at the UAE University in Al Ain, the first one here. I did high school in Chouifat, a mixed one. This was something big you know ! My Mum insisted because she said that education comes first. They were public schools for girls only, but she wanted me to be in the best one. It was full time studying. She fought for our education. I would like to do a Masters and a Phd in social work but it is an online course. It is not recognized in the UAE. So if I do, it twill only be for myself. I need it to improve my skills for Touch of Hope. Because I see my future there. This is where I see myself 20-30 years from now. I need a degree. Inch Allah.

You also are an engineer in aerospace ?

I am currently working in Abu Dhabi Autonomous Systems as a system engineer. My career has added a lot to Touch of Hope. Everything in life gives you a lesson.

What do you do in your job ?

Autonomous systems, we cannot give details. We are building engineering capabilities : the aim is to build UAE capabilities.

Is there a lot of women in that field ?

Yes ! At least 70% of the employees are national women. There are a lot of women in all areas in the UAE. My Dad actually insisted on all of us to work. You have to learn your lesson, to be independent. Each one of us had to work part of her life, giving back to someone who believes in us. We are 6 sisters. I am the youngest. All are working except one who has 4 children.

You live in your parents house of course ?

Of course ! Until I get married.

You want to get professional with Touch of Hope ?

Not yet. Sheikh Mohammed once said that our nation should not stop when they reach the top of the hill. There will be a next step. We are still climbing one step at a time and we are not at the top of the hill yet. Maybe my whole life will be about it.

What do you wish for your future ?

Every lady wishes to see her children. If I had a baby I would like him to continue Touch of Hope. I am not trying to save the world but to make a difference. A criticism even pushes me further.

Your husband will be chosen for you ? How does it work ?

In some families, the guy speaks to his parents about the fact the wants to get married. If he has a girl in mind, the parents will go to the ladie’s family, propose and they can get married. In other families, if the guy has no one in mind, it will be a traditional wedding. The parents of the guy choose.

And in your case ?

We don’t know yet. We wait and see (she laughs).

Could you say « I’d like to marry this guy » ?

Maybe. If this is a good guy. Together. But we always say that if the guy is good enough, he will come. He starts the talk with the family and they deal with it. I cannot just go to my parenst and say I am gonna choose that guy. If does not come through the door and ask for me, then no. I have to wait for the guy to take that step. In Western society, you wait until the guy gives you the ring. Here we wait until he comes to the house. And if we don’t go further we say : « God did not want us to be together », « It was not the will of God » or « It is still not the time ».

The final decision is yours?

Yes. They never force you to marry anyone you don’t want in our family. They never do that. If you agree, you get to see the guy, chaperonned. Then if you feel to marry, it will proceed. In certain families, the bride and the broom only see each other on the wedding day. Maybe the girl has seen him on picture. But this is very very traditional.

Does it still happen ?

Yes. Not only in rural areas. Very well known families do that. It is part of the culture. It has nothing to do with religion.

The girl accepts to marry someone she never saw ?

Yes. She gets to see him on the wedding day.

What a challenge !

Yes. But you know everything has its pros and cons. If this was wrong, I don’t think a lot of families would have survived from now. Because they are very linked.

What are your views on ladies’ rights ?

Since the Prophet days, men had to take care of women because they are vulnerable. We get a lot of comments that ladies’ rights are lost here just because we have the veil. It’s not just about the veil. This is just something the ladies want to wear. It is a religious thing but it is up to the lady to choose whether she wants to wear it or not. Women are half of the society. A man would not be that strong if his mother did not raise him.

How were you raised ? What did your father and your mother taught you ? What were their role ?

They were strong believers of education. My Mum does not read or write but she is a very smart lady. She knows a lot of stuff. The ladies of that generation knew maybe even more than the new generation. She taught us the discipline, to act in life. The best lesson from my mother was forgiveness. My father taught us patience.

Touch of Hope stopped collecting wishes since 2011. They are building their website and trying to collaborate with Make a Wish.

« An opportunity only comes once in a lifetime », Touch of Hope was hers.
« An opportunity only comes once in a lifetime », Touch of Hope was hers.
« An opportunity only comes once in a lifetime », Touch of Hope was hers.

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Kamelia Zaal les pouces verts « Nous faisons tout avec passion »

Publié le par Kyradubai

 Kamelia Zaal les pouces verts  « Nous faisons tout avec passion »

Kamelia Zaal, paysagiste, parle de son parcours, de ses préoccupations et de son engagement pour l’environnement, de sa famille qui a toujours été un peu en avance sur son temps, et de son regret de ne pas voir Emiriens et expatriés se fréquenter plus.


KAMELIA BIN ZAAL est la fille de Mohammed Zaal, le concepteur d’Al Barari, un homme d’affaire émirien passionné et visionnaire, qui peut se targuer d’avoir créé l’un des quartiers résidentiels les plus exclusifs de Dubaï. Après avoir partagé un jus de fruit frais minute sur la terrasse du Farm, le restaurant design et ombragé du resort, Kamelia me fait visiter la pépinière et les nombreuses espèces reproduites par Green Works ainsi que le plus gros compost du pays. Nous discutons de certains arbres et de leurs particularités. Avant de la laisser retourner auprès de son bébé de deux mois, je la prends en photo au milieu d’une des serres et soudain je réalise que cette amoureuse des plantes porte un nom de fleur. « Oui, dit-elle en riant, je ne sais pas si mon père m’a appelée Kamelia pour la fleur ou après le prénom de son premier amour ». Providentiel quoi qu’il en soit. Et Kamelia s’en retourne aussi simplement qu’elle est venue : ni fard, ni talon, ni chichi, ni robe dernier cri, aussi naturelle que la passion qui illumine son regard. Second Nature, sa compagnie, est décidément un nom tout à fait adapté.

Comment votre carrière a-t-elle débuté ?

J’ai appris en me développant. De nombreux architectes paysagistes sont assis derrière leur bureau et ne se plongent pas suffisamment dans leurs projets. Ils dessinent mais ignorent l’aspect pratique sur les sites, la gestion des développeurs et la gestion de projets. J’ai fait tout ça. Lorsque je me développais et que je mettais en pratique le paysagisme, nous travaillions spécifiquement sur Al Barari. Nous avons cru à partir d’Al Barari. Bien sûr, il y avait une équipe complète d’ingénieurs (lumière, irrigation, architectes paysagistes). C’était incroyable à observer.

Comment tout cela est arrivé ? C’était un terrain désert au départ ?

Mon père en a eu la vision. Il adore les plantes, la verdure. Quand nous voyageons, nous visitions toujours des pépinières, nous achetons des plantes et les ramenons. Cela a toujours fait partie de nos vies. Depuis tout petit, notre père était dans le jardin.

Cela provient-il du fait que vous veniez d’un pays de déserts ?

De nombreux émiriens aiment sincèrement les plantes et cela vient probablement du manque de plantes. Ils font pousser leurs propres légumes et ont des vergers de dates. Toutes ces cultures... La plupart des maisons de locaux ont de grands jardins et très verts. C’est inné chez mon père. Il adore vraiment ça. J’ai hérité cela de lui.

Les pouces verts ?

Tout à fait. J’ai partagé cela avec mon père si longtemps, c’était une progression naturelle pour moi. En fait, je travaillais pour le gouvernement. Je ne faisais rien de créatif alors que j’ai une formation artistique. J’ai eu besoin d’un changement et j’ai tout de suite pensé au paysagisme. Mon père m’a dit « Tu as un bon boulot… Que fais-tu ? »

Et que faisiez-vous ?

Je travaillais pour DDIA (Dubai Development Investment Authority). J’ai travaillé à Tecom à Dubai Internet City et pour le Press Club. J’ai gravi les échelons dans différents départements. J’adorais travailler pour le gouvernement. C’était une opportunité en or de participer au développement de Dubaï. J’en étais très fière. Mais il me manquait vraiment l’aspect créatif alors j’ai viré des bords et me suis lancée dans le paysagisme.

C’est comment de travailler avec son père ?

Elle rit. Vous apprenez comment l’autre travaille, pense et réagit aux autres, aux clients. C’était énorme mais une grande courbe d’apprentissage. Entre nos disputes, ce fut une opportunité de développement pour tous deux. Créer ce que nous avons créé… C’est intéressant ce que nous avons partagé, comment nous nous sommes transmis ce que nous aimons et n’aimons pas. J’ai appris sur les plantes à fleurs. De mon côté, j’ai toujours été plus contemporaine et moderne dans mon design de paysage. Pas tellement dans les fleurs. J’aime les plantes structurelles. J’ai appris comment utiliser des programmes de plantations ( ?) et maintenant mon père aime les programmes de plantations modernes. Nous avons appris l’un de l’autre, c’est fantastique.

Vous êtes l’aînée ?

Oui mais ils m’appellent le bébé de la famille. J’étais la première à m’impliquer dans Al Barari parce que mon père voulait mettre l’accent sur le paysage.

Vous avez donc toujours été une passionnée d’environnement ?

Oui, toujours.

Racontez nous l’histoire de cette terre ?

Mon père cherchait une maison de famille et nous n’avons jamais trouvé ce qui nous plaisait localement. Mon père voyait tous ces designs ramenés par ma mère des Etats-Unis. Nous avons réalisé qu’il y avait un vrai manque de maisons de famille fonctionnelle, belles dans un environnement conçu autour. Comme mon père avait déjà en tête de développer une pépinière et de trouver une terre pour ce projet –il voulait ramener au premier plan le vert et l’environnement dans notre culture- nous avons réuni les deux concepts. Nous avons créé un environnement dans lequel vivre plutôt qu’une simple maison dans laquelle habiter, l’environnement passant après. Mon père a vraiment brisé le moule de la mentalité de tout le monde ici. Ils construisaient tous des cubes : Emaar, Nakheel… Des cubes avec des routes, quelques arbres et le plus de maisons possible dans un espace défini. Mon père a fait l’opposé : 80% de paysage et 20% de construction. Nous offrons de magnifiques maisons mais dans un magnifique environnement.

Comment cela est-il économiquement viable ?

C’est très haut de gamme. C’est du luxe. Nous parlons d’un marché très différent. Il faut accepter de payer un peu plus pour vivre à Al Barari. En échange, c’est d’abord un très bel endroit que ce soit les enfants qui y jouent librement, de rencontrer vos voisins, vous saluer, ce sens de la communauté qui manque tant dans d’autres projets de développement. C’est quelque chose que nous avons ravivé. Se rencontrer, se parler, se mélanger. C’est aussi la raison pour laquelle il y a un désengagement entre les Emiriens et les expatriés. Nous ne nous mélangeons pas mais à Al Barari nous avons créé ces petits groupes de maisons qui facilitent la rencontre entre voisins et les jardins entre les maisons où les enfants peuvent jouer. Nous voulions réunir les gens et cela a marché. Les gens commencent à se connaître.

Pourquoi y a–t-il si peu de contact entre locaux et étrangers ?

C’est devenu comme ça. Dubai a commencé à boomer avec l’exploitation du pétrole. Tout le monde se fréquentait car c’était une toute petite communauté. Mais comme les communautés sont devenues énormes très vite, les expatriés se sont sentis plus en sécurité avec les leurs.

C’est aussi un phénomène urbain ?

C’est triste. J’ai rencontré quelqu’un qui m’a demandé d’où je venais. Lorsque j’ai dit Emirienne, elle n’y a pas cru parce que j’étais la première locale qu’elle croisait en trois ans ! Je lui ai dit que je trouvais cela très triste. Oui, je suis un peu différente car je suis mixte mais est-ce une raison pour ne pas se saluer. Porter une abaya ou une sheila n’est pas un rempart empêchant les gens de communiquer. Cela ne devrait pas les empêcher d’ouvrir la porte. Est-ce un manque d’éducation de notre part ? C’est un problème qui provient des deux côtés. C’est très intimidant cette communauté expatriée qui a grandi autant si vite. Pour moi c’est difficile aussi. Vont-ils avoir trop bu quand je les salue ? Travailler sur cette problématique était central pour mon père.

Combien de nationalités vivent à Al Barari ?

Khazakstan, Azerbaidjan, Pakistan, Suisse, Inde, Grande Bretagne, Ecosse, Arabie saoudite, Emirats. C’est un beau mélange et ils se fréquentent.

Le fait de venir d’un couple mixte vous ouvre le yeux sur les deux côtés ?

Mon père était plus ou moins le premier de sa génération à aller à l’étranger, y étudier, ramener des femmes étrangères et les épouser (elle rit) ! C’était nouveau !

Comment l’expliquez-vous ?

Ma famille a toujours eu de l’avance sur son temps, en tous cas dans notre culture. Ce n’était pas un problème mais je suis sûre que ça l’était dans d’autres familles. Je ne suis pas très conservatrice. Nous avons toujours été un peu différents. Les femmes de ma famille ont étudié à l’étranger avant tout le monde. Cela fait partie de notre ADN : nous avons toujours été forts, indépendants, historiquement aussi.

Venez-vous d’une famille bédouine ?

Nous sommes originaires d’Abu Dhabi. Notre tribu fait partie des Al Nahyan. Nous venons de la même faction. Nous sommes cousins. Et une partie de notre famille vient de Dubaï.

Que faisait votre grand-père ?

Au départ, il travaillait au port de Jebel Ali port. Il traduisait pour Sheikh Rashid. Il a appris l’anglais à Bombay et était un des rares locaux à le parler. De nouveau très en avance. Il était commerçant. Perles, tapis et petit à petit il a épargné et acheté de la terre. Il est devenu développeur de constructions individuelles. Mon père a probablement hérité ça de mon grand-père et l’a développé.

Al Barari est situé sur des terres royales ?

Nous avions beaucoup de terre à Deira, Makhtoum street (vieux Dubaï). Pour cette parcelle ici, Nad Al Sheba, nous avons obtenu une permission particulière de l’émir. Il a choisi le nom. Al Barari veut dire étendue sauvage.

Une telle profusion de verdure au milieu du désert est-elle respectueuse de l’environnement?

Toute notre eau provient des égouts. Nous avons un pipeline venant directement de la municipalité. Cela fait partie de la stratégie mise en place par mon père. Nous traitons l’eau et la filtrons and elle va ensuite dans nos canaux et dans le système d’irrigation dans son entier. Mais nous offrons deux possibilités aux clients des villas : l’eau de DEWA (Dubai Electricity and Water Authority) ou cette eau. Certaines personnes n’aiment pas l’idée de l’eau recyclée pour leurs jardins alors que c’est la meilleure…

En gros il s’agit d’eau de mer, désalinisée, usée et réutilisée ?

Oui. Et en plus nous mettons à profit la topographie du paysage. Nous n’avons pas aplati le terrain et cela contribue à la baisse de la température et permet au vent de souffler dans les maisons. Il y a moins d’évaporation. Nous avions aussi besoin de beaucoup d’ombre et c’est la raison pour laquelle nous avons planté tous ces arbres. Nous avons varié les espèces. Nous avons planté de grands arbres autour d’Al Barari pour protéger le site de la poussière du désert. Et nous utilisons d’autres arbres moins gourmands en eau à l‘intérieur. Nous essayons d’équilibrer. Nous avons planté un type d’acacia du désert qui est en voie d’extinction. Nous les faisons pousser et les replantons. Cela fait partie de notre engagement environnemental.

Combien d’eau utilisez-vous par mois ?

Beaucoup. Nous ne nous en cachons pas. Mais cela baisse en raison de toute l’ombre que nous avons créée dans de nombreuses zones. Plus nous arriverons à maturité, moins nous utiliserons d’eau.

Comment Dubaï peut-elle devenir plus durable ?

Cela doit commencer à la maison et l’éducation des enfants est la clé. Si nous apprenons à nos jeunes générations, expatriées ou locales, comment recycler les déchets, les eaux usées, les économies d’électricité, et toutes ressources que nous utilisons quotidiennement. Si nous leur enseignons comment mieux les utiliser et les apprécier, les choses changeront. Maintenant c’est très difficile. Les expatriés sont plus au courant car ils ont été alertés plus tôt mais c’est difficile de prendre le pli pour les familles émiriennes.

Il y a tant de choses à digérer en même temps…

C’est vrai. Une autre chose qui finira par arriver est l’exploitation des eaux grises. Nous y arrivons dans la phase 2 de notre projet. L’eau grise provient des machines à laver, des éviers, des douches. Il est possible de la récupérer et de l’utiliser dans le jardin. Cela permet de consommer beaucoup moins d’eau. Les panneaux solaires aussi doivent faire partie de l’éducation et le gouvernement doit encourager l’énergie solaire. Il n’y a aucune raison qu’un pays comme le notre n’exploite pas l’énergie solaire, simplement pour chauffer notre eau.

Shams 1 and 2 sont des projets d’envergure?

Oui mais je crois que tout commence à la maison. Si les individus change, le pays peut changer. Le gouvernement peut passer des lois mais si il n’encourage pas les gens à le faire chez eux… Et cela commence par l’éducation. Nous le faisons ici. Nous montrons aux enfants les plantes, l’eau : beaucoup d’écoles viennent en course ici à la pépinière. Une fois par mois. Nous pensons que si nous rendons pas à la communauté ce que nous faisons n’a pas de sens. Eduquer les jeunes fait partie de nos activités.

Combien avez-vous investi dans les plantes ?

C’était probablement notre plus grand investissement. Mais nous pouvons aussi faire pousser nos propres plantes. Donc la pépinière prend le pas sur l’investissement initial.

Elle est ouverte au public ?

Absolument. Pour réduire les coûts et éviter d’infecter l’environnement, il est central de le faire.

Importer des plantes peut être dangereux ?

Il faut faire très attention aux plantes invasives. Nous avons un spécialiste qui travaille pour nous, se ballade et attrape les insectes dans Al Barari et la pépinière. Elle découvre des espèces. Si nous trouvons un insectes qui permette de se nourrir de ce qui détruit les plantes… Nous évitons aussi les pesticides donc cela peut aussi être un insecte qui tue les moustiques. Nous l’évitons à tout prix. C’est crucial car nous ne voulons pas infecter les Emirats avec un insecte qui a pu être importé par une plante. Elle contrôle aussi toute prolifération de moustiques. Nous essayons d’utiliser le plus de matériaux bio possible. Avec toute les constructions et la maintenance, il y a beaucoup de chutes, de bois, palettes, copeaux etc. Nous les broyons et faisons notre propre compost. Nous récupérons aussi les déchets des autres développeurs. Nous avons le plus grand compost du pays. Et nous prévoyons aussi d’avoir une ferme bio.

D’où vous vient l’inspiration ?

Mon père (elle rit). Ma mère qui est dans le design d’intérieur. Nous voyageons beaucoup et nous inspirons des choses que nous aimons. Mes voyages d’architecte. Je suis plutôt formelle dans mes goûts intérieurs. Pour ce qui est des plantes j’ai été plutôt influencée par mon père mais aussi par les voyages. Je fais beaucoup de charité. Je fais des voyages avec Gulf for Good. Ils organisent des treks et c’est à vous de lever les fonds pour le voyage et des organisations d’aide à l’enfance dans le pays. C’est une bonne expérience : j’ai gravi le Kilimanjaro par exemple. Mais en même temps vous faites quelque chose pour le pays en question. J’ai toujours travaillé avec Dubai Cares pour la construction d’écoles. Et pour Senses, special needs. Mon mari a aussi une compagnie de produits domestiques eco-friendly. Si quelqu’un en achète, un dirhams part chez Senses. Nous sommes toujours engagés.

Il est Emirien ?

Non Cypriote turque. Je ne pensais jamais rencontrer quelqu’un à Dubaï. Les gens sont de passage la plupart du temps et il y a un certain niveau de superficialité. Je suis tout l’opposé, les pieds sur terre.

Toute votre famille vit à Al Barari ?

Oui c’est aussi quelque chose que les clients apprécient. Nous n’avons pas bâti Al Barari que pour faire de l’argent mais pour nous-mêmes. Le Farm en est le parfait exemple. Nous adorons manger. Toute notre famille gravite autour de la nourriture et nous communiquons avec cela. Chez nous tout est autour de ça. Le restaurant n’était qu’une évolution naturelle : partager avec les gens de bons produits pas trop chers. Nous faisons tout avec passion et cela marche bien car en tant que famille nous nous équilibrons. Mon père a la vision, c’est le Chairman. Mon frère s’occupe des affaires courantes. Ma mère du design d’intérieur, de l’architecture. J’ai la formation paysagiste et ma sœur nous a quittés pour développer son propre projet de développement, Nourai Island à Abu Dhabi. Elle a bout touchant.

Kamelia Bin Zaal en quelques mots

Moitié émirienne-moitié écossaise

A vécu en Angleterre jusqu’à 20 ans

Revenue vivre avec son père

In and out des UAE toute sa vie

Travaille depuis 7 ans avec sa famille sur Al Barari

Landscape creative Director- a lancé sa propre compagnie de , Landscape Design, Second Nature en 2006

Etudes à Inchbald School of Design, Londres

Diplôme en Garden Design

L’eau aux Emirats : quelques chiffres

Il existe une préoccupation croissante aux EAU au sujet de l’irrigation. L’agriculture consomme plus de 60% des réserves d’eau du pays alors que le secteur ne contribue qu’à 1% de l’économie.

De l’eau potable est disponible à 100 kilomètres sous la surface de la terre.

L’eau souterraine représente 63% de l’eau du pays.

Les EAU ont déjà perdu 42% de leurs ressources en eau renouvelable entre 1992 and 2007 selon l’Organisation des Nations Unies pour l’Alimentation et l’Agriculture.

L’utilisation de l’eau devrait croître de 30% avant 2030.

On estime à 100 milliards de dollars l’investissement en désalinisation dans les pays du Golfe entre 2011 et 2016.

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Green Fingers’ Kamelia Zaal: « Everything we do is from a passion of ours »

Publié le par Kyradubai

Green Fingers’ Kamelia Zaal: « Everything we do is from a passion of ours »

Landscaping Designer Kamelia Zaal talks about her job, environmental action and concerns, her « forward » family and how she wishes locals and foreigners mixed more. INTERVIEW.

KAMELIA BIN ZAAL is the daughter of Mohammed Zaal, the passionate founder of Al Barari, an esteemed and visionary Emirati businessman who boasts the most exclusive state of the art residential resort in Dubai. After sharing a freshly squeezed juice at the terrace of The Farm, the lovely and lush quarter’s restaurant, Kamelia drives me around the plant nursery showing all the species they grow and the largest compost plant of the country. We talk about the properties of certain trees and their particularities. Before letting her go back to her two months old baby boy, I take a picture of her in the middle of the greenhouse, and it strikes me that this plant lover is named after a flower. « Yes, she says laughing, I don’t know if I was named after my father’s first love or after a flower. » But it is indeed a providential surname. And Kamelia leaves as simply as she came. No make up, no chichi, no high heels or fancy dress, as natural as her passion for garden design. Second Nature is indeed the proper name for her company.

How did you start your career ?

I learnt as I grew. A lot of landscape architects sit behind a desk and don’t get into their projects enough. They do the drawings but the practicalities of in sites issues, handling the developpers and project managing is an entirely different thing. I have done all of the above. I used to do a turn key. When I grew and I set up the landscape practice we were working specifically on Al Barari. We grew from Al Barari. Obviously there I had a full team of engineers (irrigation, lighting, landscape architects). It was an amazing thing to watch.

How did all this happen, it was an empty land basically ?

The concept was a vision of my father. He loves greenery, plants. Whenever we travel we always go see a nursery, buy plants, bring them back. It’s always been part of our lives. Ever since we were little, Dad has been in the garden.

Does it come from the fact that you come from a desert country ?

You will find a lot of locals from the UAE genuinely love plants and I think it comes from the lack of plants and growing their own vegetables and date farming. All this cultivation… You will see that most local houses have very large gardens and a very green one. It is just innate to my Dad. He absolutely loves it. I have got that from him.

Green fingers ?

Absolutely. I’ve shared that with my father for so long, it was a natural progression for me. I was actually working for the government before. I was not doing anything creative and I have a creative background. I needed a change so I automatically thought about garden design. My dad said « You are in a good job… What are you doing ? »

What were you doing ?

I was working with DDIA (Dubai Development Investment Authority). I worked in Tecom in Dubai Internet City and in the Press Club. I progressed through different departments. I loved working for the government. It was an amazing opportunity to be part of the growth of Dubai. I was very proud of that. But definitively I was lacking creatively so I changed my line complety in garden design.

And how is it to work with one’s father ?

(She laughs). You get to know how each other work, how you are thinking and how you react to other, clients. It was a massive but great learning curve. In between the few arguments that we had, it has been a development for both of us. To create what we have created… It is interseting how we shared, passed likes and dislikes to each other. I learnt more about flowering plant. I was always more contemporary and modern in my landscape designs. I never really into flowers. I love structural plants. I learnt how to use planting schemes and now he likes modern planting schemes as well. So it is great because we learnt from each other as well.

Are you the oldest ?

Yes, but they call me the baby of the family. I was the first to get involved in Al Barari because it was the landscape that my father wanted to push.

So you’ve always been passionate about environment ?

Yes. Always.

Tell me about this land ?

My father was looking for a family house and we never found what we liked locally. My Dad was looking at all these designs from America from my mother. We realized that there was a real lack of family houses that were functional, beautiful and needed an environment as well to be created around them. Because my Dad had already started thinking about developing a nursery and finding land for it, all about the green and environment to bring it back to our culture, he ended up marrying the two concepts. We created an environment to live in rather than a house to live in and think about environment afterwards. My Dad really broke the molds again with the mentallity of everybody in the UAE. They were all building boxes : Emaar, Nakheel… Cubes, with roads a few trees and as many houses possible within a space of a land. Whereas my father was completely the opposite. We have 80% landscape and 20% built up. We offer a beautiful house but in a beautiful environment.

How is it sustainable economically?

Economically it is very high end. At the end of the day it is luxurious. We are talking a very different market. They would have to pay that little bit more if they wanted to live in Al Barari. To compensate for that, number 1 it is a beautiful place just from children playing, walking around to meet and greet each other, this sense of community lacking very much in other developments. Something needed to be brought back. Commune and talk and mix. Hands that is also why there is a disengagement between Emiratis and expatriate communities. We are not mixing whereas in Al Barari we created these leaf clusters, where there are only a few houses and you are more likely to meet your neighbours and all these gardens between the houses where the children can play. We wanted to bring people together and it’s worked. You start to know each other.

Why is that there is so little mix between foreigners and locals ?

I think it ended up being like it because when Dubai started with the oil extraction and the boom began, everyone mixed because it was such a small community. But then as the communities grew drastically over a very short period of time, expatriates felt safer with their own kind.

It is also an urban phenomena ?

It is a sad thing. I came accross someone who sat down with me and she asked me where I came from. I said Emirati. She said « You can’t be Emirati, you’re the first Emirai I met in three years ! » I actually told her that it made me really sad. Yes I am different because I am mixed but there is no reason for people not to say « Hi » and communicate with each other. Wearing an abaya and a sheila is not veil to stop people from communicating. It shouldn’t stop you from opening doors. Maybe a lack of education on our side ? It is a two side thing. It is very intmidating that the expatriate community has grown so much and so quickly. From my side it is also difficult. Are they gonna be drunk when I say « Hi » to them ? It was key for my father to work on that.

How many nationalities do you have here ?

Khazakstan, Azerbaidjan, Pakistan, Swiss, Indian, English, Scottish. Saoudis, Emiratis. It is a lovely mix and they socialize.

The fact of coming from a mixed couple gives you an open eye on both sides ?

In my father’s generation, he was pretty much the first to go abroad, study abroad, bring foreign women, bring them back and marry them (she laughs). This was new !

How do you explain it ?

My family has always been very forward, for our culture anyway. There was not really any issues but I am sure for other families it was difficult. I am not very conservative. We have always been a little bit different. The women in my family went abroad studying before anybody else was. I think it is our blood line, we have always been a very strong independent family, historically as well.

You come from a bedouin family ?

We are originally from Abu Dhabi. Our tribe is part of the Al Nahyan’s. We come from the same factions. We are cousins. And part of our family came to Dubai.

What was your grandfather doing ?

He used to work in Jebel Ali port at the beginning. He also translated for Sheikh Rashid. He learnt English in Bombay so he was one of the few locals who spoke english. So again very forward. He was a trade man everything from pearl diving, carpets, and slowly, slowly, he began to save his money and buy land. He became a developer in individual buildings. That is where my father got it from probably and took that over.

The land here is from the royal family ?

We had a lot of land in Deira, Makhtoum street. For this land here, Nad Al Sheba, we got special permission from the Sheikh. He chose the name. Al Barari means wilderness.

Is such a lush vegetation environmentally conscious ?

All our water is sewage treated. We have a pipeline directly from the municipality. It comes into our project that my father especially organized. We polish and clean the water again and then it goes in our water ways and in the entire irrigation system. But for our clients in the villas we have to give them the two options : DEWA (Dubai Electricity and Water Authority) water or affluent water. Some people don’t like the idea of affluent water in their gardens where actually it is the best one for them.

Basically it is water coming from the sea, desalinised, used and re-used ?

Yes. And on top of that we used natural topography in the landscape. We did not flatten everything and this helps to keep temperatures and wind flow throught the houses. There is less evaporation. We needed a lot of shade that is why we planted a lot of trees. We mixed our species. We also used the big ones on the exterior to protect dust from the desert. And we used other trees which don’t use as much water, we try to bounce about. We planted raf trees, a type of acacia that you would see in the desert. But it is becoming extinct. So to maintain we have seeds so we grow them and plant them. It is part of our environmental action.

How much water do you use ?

A lot. We don’t lie about it. However, it is already declined because of all the shade we created on a lot of the areas. We have actually decrease the amount of water we use and as we mature, this is what is going to happen.

How can Dubai become more sustainable ?

It has to start in the home and education of children is the key to everything. If we start to educate our young generation, expatriates or locals, of how non recycling of waste, used water, electricity, every ressources we used on a daily basis, teach them how to use it and appreciate it, then things can change. Right now it is very difficult. The expatriates know because they had it longer but it is harder to get Emirati families to get into it.

There is so many new things coming at the same time…

It is true. Another thing which will eventually happen is the possibility of using grey water. We will be looking at it in the phase 2 of our project. Grey water is from washing machines, sinks, showers and you collect it from your house and you can reuse it in your garden. You keep your consumption very low. Solar panelling which is partly the education and the government departments to encourage it more. There is no reason in a country like ours not to be using solar power, just to heat our water.

There are massive solar projects in Abu Dhabi, Shams 1 and 2 ?

Yes, but I think it has to start at home. If the individuals start changing then the country can change. The government can introduce certain laws, regulations but unless they are encouraging the individuals to do it at home… And that starts with education. We do that here. We show children the plants, the water : a lot of schools come visit the nursery. We do that once a month. We just feel that if we are not giving back there is not point doing it. Educating the children is also part of what we are doing here.

How much did you invest in greenery here ?

It was probably our largest investment. But with greenery we can grow our own. So there’s an initial investment but then the nursery takes over.

It is open to the public ?

Absolutely. To save costs and other environments because when you are importing plants you are actually infecting other countries and environments. So the key for us was bringing the species that we experiment with and we knew would work with. So we would not have to buy them and would not be affecting others.

It can be out of control when you import a plant ?

Invasive plants is very much something you have to be careful with. And the insects. We actually have a specialist who works with us and walks around. She traps insects all around Al Barari and in the nursery and she founds out species. And from an environmental point of view if we can create an insect that can maybe eat something that can destroy the plant… It is very important because we don’t want to infect the entire environment of the UAE with an insect that might have been imported on a plant. She also helps to control any outbreak of mosquitos. It could be one that could kill other insect because we don’t want to use pesticides. We avoid that at all costs. We try to use as many oganic materials as possible. With all the maintenance and the construction with have so many clippings and a lot of wood and pallet, tiles. We chip them and create our own composting. We take it from other developers as well. We have the largest composting development here in house for the nursery and the landscape. We also have a plan to have an organic farm.

Where do you get your inspiration from ?

My father (she laughs). My mother, who is an interior designer. We are always travelling and seeing things that we love. Also personnaly from my travels in architecture. Hence I am quite formal and structural in my private villa designs. My planting is more from my father but also from travels. I do a lot of charity as well. I do a lot of trips with Gulf for Good. They organize treks and affiliate the charity for children in that country and you raise money for the trip and the children. It is a great exeprience – I have climbed Kilimanjaro for instance- but at the same time you are doing something for the local community. I have always worked with Dubai Cares to build schools but also curriculum and teachers. And also for Senses, special needs. My husband also has an ecofriendly cleaning maid service and ecofriendly products. If anyone buys from it, one dirhams goes to Senses so we are always keeping involved.

He is Emirati ?

No Turkish Cypriot. I did not expect to meet anybody in Dubai because people are so transiant and a certain level of superficiallity. They are only gonna be here for a bit. I am the complete opposite, down to earth.

All your family lives here in Al Barari ?

Yes. That is another thing that clients actually love. We did not just do this for money but also for ourselves. The Farm restaurant is a perfect exemple of that. We love food. Our entire family evolves around food and we communicate with it. Everthing about us is about food. It was only a natural progression for us to have a restaurant and to share with people good wholesome food that does not have to cost a lot. Everything we do is from a passion of ours and it works really well because as a family we balance each other out. My father has a vision, is a Chairman, my brother does the nitty gritty, my mother does the interior design, architectural specifications, I have the landscape background and now my sister left to become a developer on her own, Nourai Island in Abu Dhabi. She’s nearly finished it.

BIO Kamelia Bin Zaal in a few words

Half Emirati, half Scottish

Lived in England until 20

Moved back home to be with her father

In and out of the UAE her all life

Working with her family for 7 years in Al Barari

Landscape creative Director- started her own company, Second Nature, Landscape Design in 2006

Worked as a freelance landscape designer before that

Studied at Inchbald School of Design in London

Diploma in Garden Design

Water concerns

There is a growing concern in the UAE over irrigation. Agriculture use more than 60% of the country’s water while only contributing less than 1% to the economy. Fresh water is available 100 kilometers under the earth. Ground water accounts ofr 63% of the country’s water. The Emirates lost 42% of its renewable water resources between 1992 and 2007 according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The water use is expcted to grow by 30% before 2030. It is estimated that 100 billion dollars have and will be invested in desalinization accross the GCC between 2011 and 2016.

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“I can say from experience that certain clients prefer women lawyers”

Publié le par Kyradubai

“I can say from experience that certain clients prefer women lawyers”

Women come a long way from the « What are you doing here? What are women doing at the court?” type of comments common three years ago. But Diana Hamade, an Emirati lawyer and owner of her own cabinet in Dubai, explains how Arab women have a bigger challenge, much more at stake and how what is happening in the region comes as an additional concern. INTERVIEW.

How many women are working at Dubai Courts, lawyers and judges?

I am not aware precisely of the number of women lawyers registered with the Ministry of Justice or the Dubai rulers Court. But what I can say is that on daily basis I meet at Dubai Courts around 40 women out of 100 lawyers. The number of women judges at Dubai courts is five. One of them is an Appeal Court judge.

Is it a very new trend?

Yes, it only happened three years ago. The first judge ever was from Al Ain, appointed at Al Ain court.

So things are evolving in the judicial system ?

A lot. It is very interesting. My daughter wants to study law but she is primarily thinking of practicing in the DIFC courts because she prefers to study English Law for instance. Now we have Civil Law Courts based on and in line with the French Legal system, DIFC courts which are English Courts in addition to alternative dispute resolution systems and domains such as Arbitration, adjudication and mediation.

How do you get to choose one from the other?

Unfortunately, for us it is difficult to be in two courts. I may not want to appear before the DIFC courts although I am a practitioner there, as I am not yet practiced in the English courts. Being a lawyer with right of Audience before all UAE courts including DIFC Courts would not automatically render one as a practitioner in all courts. I can see that many of the new coming lawyers may prefer the English courts to the Arabic speaking UAE courts especially after the extension of jurisdiction the DIFC Courts obtained, but we still got to wait and see.

You are leaving tonight for the Arab Women in the Global Economy Conference in London. Are you very active on advocating women’s rights?

I started writing for The National four years ago. I was a columnist for almost three years and I published articles in a number of publications, on legal matters. I spoke about human rights, women’s rights. I always spoke about women somehow. I am invited from time to time to women’s forums in the Arab world to speak about promoting women’s rights and opportunities to be raised in certain practices; the latest thereof was on promoting women to become board members. There is a lot of movement to push the women further to leadership positions. The conference I am going to now is about Arab women integrating into the global economy. There are very little of them in the financial services for instance. They have the money so they are the clients but what about them taking part in restructuring the financial services and designing them to suit women better. Women have their special needs and they have to be included in the organizational structure to assist women efficiently. I spoke about Arab women on boards in family owned businesses and now I will be talking about women in the financial services sector.

Why are they still not integrated?

The problems in our countries are many. Starting from the home ending at the work place with everybody involved. The media takes on a huge responsibility, the regulator, the government etc…

The Financial industry is still a male dominated sector. As a lawyer, almost four years ago I wrote an article about women lawyers in the UAE which was then my first. The piece was published in a special book on the UAE. I swear back then the men were asking women « What are you doing here? What are women doing at the court?”.

What made them change their attitude?

The growing numbers of women in the legal domain and the way women have proven themselves being lawyers in this country. Now they are having their own cabinets. The first two lawyers in the UAE are still around until now and it was the two of them only until 10 years ago when women started entering the legal practice.

What about the clients?

I can say from experience that certain clients prefer women. They come to me because I am a woman.


They think men are not focused like us, multifunctional like us. They think that men can be distracted from their work. We are very responsible, we deliver on time, and we are very committed. You know what I am talking about.

And only women know how hard they had to work to get there?

For women it is a continuous challenge. Every day it is a day to make it or break it. To prove yourself and deal with all the difficulties, worldwide but Arab women have a bigger challenge and much more at stake.

But what is the difference for Arab women? Is it religion? Tradition?

First of all, think about tradition. How many families don’t want their daughters to work? They try to keep them out of work. They tell them they should not work, that they don’t need to. This is the biggest challenge for a lot of girls.

Is it still the case?

To a certain extent there are still conservative families everywhere in every country. It is against their customs, their traditions; women should not be allowed to travel on their own. It limits your ability to do a lot of things, join certain sectors of business. Then there is the acceptance of your male counterparts in the work place. They either take you in or make your life hell. In many sectors men still do not accept women.

Did you experience it yourself?

Men in the judicial system are not very used to women in the Arab world. Women are still rare or at least hardly found. When I started appearing at the courts, the judges would question my sources, abilities, skills, etc… but after some time and when I proved that my legal skills and knowledge were satisfactory and up to their expectations things changed dramatically.. Men lawyers did not like it in the beginning either. They did not hire women in their cabinet, tried to keep them away. But then they had to face the reality.

Aren’t the social constraints much stronger then the religious ones on women in Arab countries?

True. Religion can be interpreted in a more flexible way. There are people who can make it easier for us. Look at the UAE, we all wear what we want, we can practice every job, just like Western countries. The leadership of the country is allowing the religion to be flexible in favor of women. Those who don’t see women good enough claim Islam prevents women from working but it is mainly social issues that are a restraint to women. Religion does not say that we can’t work. Religion does not say that we can’t travel. It is mainly the social set of mind of men.

What can change that? Time?

Yes indeed time. What should be done is simple and clear; engage society movements and integration of civil society to push women agendas further. Because women’s agendas are just kept in the shadow, nobody wants to see them, keep their eyes closed on them. Civil society has a big role. And civil societies are not developed in the Arab world. So women just have to jump to try to get where they want.

And develop more and more role models?

It would be great if we can set such role models for the coming generations.

Do you see yourself as a role model?

I am proud to say that a lot of young girls look up to me and say they would love to become what I am. My wish is to be really what they think I am! I am short on things. I wish I can do better. But so far I am happy that some girls want to study law because they saw what I am doing, they read my articles; believe that we can make a difference. It’s amazing.

Are you part of any women’s organizations?

Unfortunately I don’t have time with my work and three children. But I never say « no » to any opportunity to help, to do communal work and I take initiatives on my own to help many establishments. But I can’t keep up with them.

But you attend talks and conferences?

Yes I always try to do something which I believe will hopefully make a difference. I joined the International Bar Association as a speaker on women in Islam and intersection between civil law and sharia law in the last two years. The first session was held in Dubai. The second time, I was with the women’s rights group with all the women lawyers from all over the word. We gathered and spoke about issues. I spoke about Muslim women and how Islam is a promoter not a preventer. It was a paper which was very highly regarded.

What was the answer to that question?

Islam is misinterpreted in a very sad way. The way the Quran is interpreted takes away a lot of its virtues. It’s a religion for the betterment of the world. I don’t think Islam wants women left behind. It’s the interpretation. The sayings of the Prophet were so unfairly interpreted vis à vis women. All around the world, do you see one woman scholar? A female pope? This is all around the world. Men stay right in the way. There are so many verses in the Quran you can read in four different ways. That is why of course we have sects and scholarly views, but again if you choose to read them in a way that prevents us you are able to do that. Arab and Muslim women are the poorest in the world and the ones who are paying the dearest prices for injustice. Look at Pakistan, there are still honor crimes until now. This is just because they chose a verse, they keep just two words regardless of the beginning and the end of the verse and they say that a woman should be slaughtered. Who said that? It’s the word of a man.

I am impressed by your freedom of speech. You can talk freely ?

Where and when? Now with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, I can only wonder who can talk anymore. All the rights the women had gained in Tunisia for instance are all disappearing and vanishing … In the last five years with the Arab spring, we just moved back. It is a pity and it is worrying. But for the UAE, from day one the country has put itself as a global city. Look at everyone. I have friends form Japan, France, Germany, and Australia. Where else do you have people walking from so many different countries in the same neighborhood and attending the same schools? We are indeed global citizens living in a global city.

Do you think the UAE could serve as an example for the region, for the Arab world?

That’s what we were looking forward to but it doesn’t look like it. It seems that around us things are turning differently.

Are you afraid for the future?

Oh yes. Not for people my age but our kids. I would like our kids to go away, but where?

Regarding the laws, what can be improved for women?

First of all, the inheritance in the sharia law. Women should be treated fairly. If in any way they are prejudiced or harmed the regulators can fix things and interfere for the good of women. Certain laws based on Sharia should not be applicable to non Muslim living in the UAE, such as the inheritance law. Who will change that is a good question. Until now nothing has changed.

Women don’t have the same rights as men. You talked about inheritance, what else?

A Muslim woman cannot divorce her husband. She is not allowed to, unless she has very good reasons. But he can divorce her overnight. They have to fight and in most cases it will take a year to a year and a half.

What do answer to people in Europe who say « well this is all very good, but if you where so free why don’t you stop covering yourself then and then you’ll really be en accord with yourself?»

It is part of uprising. People used to see their mothers with their scarfs. They wear it with amazing designs. Mainly it is something embeded in Arab women’S aesthetics This is the way you should look like.

Of course we are talking about Dubai and no other Arab countries?

Yes. Not all. I know in France people hate to see women covering their faces, wearing Niqab. I don’t like it either. I think they do it just to make a statement. For us here it is nothing. Everybody wears abaya, it is cute.

In the Cabinet, there are 4 women out of 30 Ministers. Is it a good number?

It is a good number. It is almost the same ratio compared to the West. As for the Federal National Council (FNC), which is more or less like a Parliament -it has an advisory role-, there are women as well. We are happy because at least there are there to defend women issues, to review laws, to give comments, to ask for laws which are not already made. Even if the FNC has a marginal role at least there are women there.

What would you wish for women here in the next 20 years?

In the UAE, I honestly think the next step is the sky.


The sky ! You know, your limit here is the sky. Nothing has stopped a woman from doing whatever she wants to do. Everywhere there are men, women are being accepted. It wasn’t the case 20 years ago at all. Now you can see them everywhere in the government, in business, medicine, engineering, on boards- which is amazing. Now there are still social boundaries. I think that in 20 years we will see much less of them.

What about the region?

What’s happened in Egypt has given us a very sour feeling. Tunisia was the most amazing country with the most incredible achievements. They stopped the four wives. They had an inheritance law giving the same rights to women. They had a law just like in western countries. The Arab world seems to be doomed. But we are going on hoping that things will somehow change dramatically to become great and ultimately perfect.


Diana Hamade Al Ghurair, a UAE lawyer and legal consultant specialized in civil and commercial law with a focus on Shariah related matters where separation, custody and inheritance are primarily concerned. Diana obtained here Law degree from the UAE, Al Ain University in Sharia & Law. Then she went to Aberdeen University in Scotland where she got her LLM in International Commercial law.

Diana was born in the UAE from Lebanese parents (mother Palestinian Lebanese). Her father was one of the first practicing lawyers of this country. He contributed to the law making in the UAE and authored a number of established opinions.

He passed away 15 years ago but Diana started practicing law only five years ago as she was employed by Dubai government at the Chamber of Commerce and the DIFC in legal advising capacities. Her cabinet now is a boutique law firm, called the International advocate Legal services.

“I can say from experience that certain clients prefer women lawyers”

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Emirati Writer Ameera Al Hakawai is far from being "Desperate in Dubai"

Publié le par Kyradubai

Emirati Writer Ameera Al Hakawai is far from being "Desperate in Dubai"

Scandalous writer and author of national best seller Desperate In Dubai, Ameera Al Hakawati, remains a mystery eventhough she is the most humble and down to earth young lady one can imagine. She leads her life according to the values of Islam and has a great sense of humor. INTERVIEW.

How many books have you sold now ?

This is the third print. The first was 10'000 copies. Now I am not sure, I don’t have the exact figure. But Hamdulillah it’s doing well, especially in this region.

Your book is really a page turner. How did you manage to catch the very souls of your characters ? You were born here ?

I was born in the UK. I moved here eight years ago.

It seems you’ve always lived here ?

I have always had close connections wih the UAE, coming and going. It is really a part of who I am. I know a lot of people here and that’s what inspired me to write the book. It is such an interesting place and it is so different from anywhere else. Like that the locals are a minority for example. I felt that nobody had explored that yet. I wanted to take the opportunity to do that.

And you chose characters from different backgrounds, reflecting this flavor of Dubai ?

Exactly. Obviously I realized it would be impossible to write about every single person and nationality. There is so many different people here. I knew I would have to pick one angle. The challenge of writing about a place that not many people have written about, people are going to think this is a book that represent Dubai. And I did not want to be completely representative.

You also wanted to come up with a catchy story ?

The location is secondary. The story, the women, their lives…

How did you imagine these lives ?

A lot of it is based on stuff that’s happened.

Are they friends of yours ?

There are friends of mine, friends of friends, acquaintances… Things that I have seen, that I have heard about.

Well you’ve heard much more than I have !

You should get out more !

Emirati women seem quite secretive and Lady Luxe the main character makes us breach into the hidden aspect of their lives ?

It is not so much secretive. It is just that there are so few Emiratis compared to every one else. It seems very very diffcult to know them unless you work with Emiratis. Lady Luxe is not based on one particular person. I have taken bits from loads of different people and got inspired by a half Emirati, half British fashion designer that I know. She also has this double identity - English and Emirati - although not as much as Lady Luxe, constantly trying to balance both and struggling against those two parts of her identity. Lady Luxe is primarily based on her. But the blond wig, that’s completely fictional.

These are ingredients for a good novel ?

Yes to give it some drama. It is a metaphore of the double life that people lead.

Have you met a lot of women who lead that sort of life ?

I would not say a lot, but I would not say it is completey uncommon. Especially young girls. Before they get married, they are struggling. They live in a country where their culture is pretty much one thing and then they are exposed to so many different cultures at the same time. Dubai is a very different place. Some expats might find it difficult and closed minded but parts of it is very very open.

Is it quite dangerous for the gilrs to take such risks ?

Yes but that happens everywhere in the world. In any Arab country it is the same thing. Culture, society teach one thing but then as a young woman or as a teenager it is a society that is open to globalization. You are watching MTV, Hollywood movies, reading books, learning about other cultures, seeing different ways of lives. There is always that constant struggle regardless of being Emirati, Syrian, Lebanese, Indian, Pakistani… Most traditional cultures face very similar issues.

Why did you wish to remain anonymous ?

When I started writing the blog, I found it liberating. I did not want to worry so much about what people think and about criticism from other Arabs, Muslims, talking about subjects that are not open. And as a writer you are always scared about putting your work out there as well. I could write without worrying if anyone hated it. I could just write and enjoy it and see what happened if it was a complete failure and avoid a public humiliation.

Family wise or society wise it could have been a risk for you ?

I would not say a risk but my family would have concerns. My family knows now, at least close family, my parents.

What do they say about it ?

My mom was happy to read my book and proud of me but at the same time worried about such controversial thing. « Can’t you just tell a normal story ? Why did you have to do this ?» Well this is the story that I have.

And this is what people like ?

That’s who I am. I did not want to be fake, write about something that was not about me. Writing a book is difficult. You have to be passionate about what you are writing. You have to be interested. I did not want to get bored half way.

Did you experience censorship ?

I did. I don’t know how it works to be honest. But my blog was blocked initially. I am not sure whether it was DU or Etisalat but one of them did for a couple of months, when I got lots of traffic. I don’t know why especially now that you see books like Fifty Shades of Grey.

Yes but they don’t talk about Emirati women ?

So that must have been the only reason why it was blocked. But no one contacted me, send me a message saying « we’ve blocked you ». I juts tried to access it from work and I could not but then when I got home I could. So maybe it’s a good thing no one knows who I am, because I don’t want to get in trouble.

And you continued ?

Yes because lots of things are blocked so I did not pay much attention. But when the book went out it was taken off the shelves temporarily. It was removed at the beginning. It came to the UAE, I was super excited. Finally it was out on the shelves and the next day it was gone. I announced it on my blog, on my Facebook page : « You can finally get it ». People were waiting because they never knew how the story ended. And a day or two later, people told me that they could not put it on the shelf and sell it. The book shop said that they had a call from the Ministry of Interior who told them not to dispaly it until further notice. But no one told me nor my publisher.

You stopped the blog before publishing of course ?

Yes as soon as I got the publishing deal. I explained on my blog what had happened.

Do you still get an income from it right now ?

It’s difficult for me to talk about such things. But it’s alright, nothing amazing. You know extra spending money.

And what do you do in your life ?

I work full time in corporate communications. Still writing but very boring stuff. It is very draining this is why I don’t have time to think about writing the next one. I have the idea in my head. I am married as well. Three months after the book was out. I got super busy with that.

Your husband is supportive ?


He has got some limits ?

Being a typical Arab man, he has some limits. He is happy that this book is under a suden name. What people would say otherwise. « You wrote about some dodgy things here. » He loves the fact that I am successfull.

Did he wonder how you knew about them ?

No. But he was more like « People are gonna wonder how you know about that. » He knows me, who I am. They don’t realize that people can have imagination and can do research.

Do you realize you made a breakthrough here ?

I don’t see things like that. I see it as, I have a story, I told it. I was not trying to break through or anything. I wanted to write. I love writing. I am glad if this paves the way for other arab writers and people to express themselves.

Are you thinking about a movie ?

A few people came. But nothing really interesting. I went to a « From page to screen » session but you have to cut so much out and as a writer you are so close to your story… I don’t feel I would be able to do that.

How old are you ?

Twenty something.

As your characters are really based on true ones, isn’t there a little hypocrisy going on ?

Definitely, without a doubt, there is so much hypocrisy going on and at so many different levels. I would not say that it’s unique to this culture but it definitely goes on. Some people put on a religious gown and their heart is something totally different. Which is something I am totally against. I believe what you see is what you should get really. I can understand that some people have no choice but to portray that image of themselves. Too scared not too. Culturally it is a very strong thing, the family, the society. It is really really strong. And a lot of people, especially the youth, are not ready to break through. And the UAE is so young, it will take a long time before it comes to a stage where people have a different idea of freedom and modernity : what you should do and what you should not do.

Would you see yourself as an advocate for women’s progress in a way ?

Not really. Every woman advocates woman’s progress as a woman. As a woman you don’t want your gender to be held back. I think every human being, man or woman shoulg have a right to do what they believe in. If they don’t belive in God, they should be able to practice that and if they want ot study they should and if they don’t they shouldn’t.

The way you say things out loud, it’s one breach and then there will be another one and this is how society evolves in a way ?

It is a very difficult question. In this culture, women have rights but not the same as men. They have their own rights. Some of it is great. When we get married, our money is completely our own. Our husbands have absolutely no rights over it. But it’s his duty to pay the rent. This is great ! Women’s rights activists might say it’s wrong. You’re a woman, you should be equal to man and contribute. But then I feel that I want to keep that right and I would find that degrading. So my definition of modernity might be different because of who I am. Because of my culture and my religion.

What do think western, so called liberated women, have lost in their battle for equal rights ?

It is very interesting. I feel that about myself. We live in the same universe but parrallel. We have different ideas of what is freedom and liberation. Different things might make us happy. Like I have only recently started watching Sex and the City. And I feel sad for Carry. They are so desperate to get married and settle down. Here it is so normal. We marry so easily. I found someone I liked, he liked me too, we marry, end of the story. It was so simple. So I look at them and I think « Why did you complicate things so much ? » I feel so much pity for them. We have that kind of freedom. The freedom in knowing where your life’s leading. They are confused about where to get, what to do next. This whole worry we don’t have is liberating.

It is a question of perspective…

Yes that’s what it is. You foind it liberating to not cover and I find it liberating to cover. I love the fact that I don’t have to worry about my hair. Is it nice, shiny, etc ? I like wearing my abaya. I wake up and it takes me 20 minutes to get ready for work. Here are all my abayas hanging, I pick one. I don’t have to iron them. And I don’t have to worry about what’s under : sportswear, legging, jeans and T-shirt, whatever. I feel liberated. I think it’s great.

What if the world was governed by women ?

Honestly, it woudl be scary.

Too emotional maybe…

Maybe this is Arab women, I don’t know. I travelled recently to Saoudi for Umrah, a smaller haj (pilgrimage). When you are in Madina, the city where the Prophet immigrated to, it is slightly more segregated. So there I spent some time away from my husband. And then when we met again, we told each other what happened. So I told him my stroy about women pushing, shoving, screamimg, super emotional. And he was like, « Oh, the men weren’t like that. It was calm. » We need a balance : men need women, women need men. I don’t think one gender is superior to the other. I think we are both equal. We sometimes have different responsibilities. I like it personally. I like the fact that I work because I want to work but I am not career obsessed because I have a man to take care of me. And he likes to take care of me and me too. It’s a win win situation. I don’t want to be the man on the relationship. I don’t want to have that pressure on my head. I have to provide.

But you are also quite liberal. This is not the case for a lot of women ?

Of course. If I grew up in a family where I was not aloud to work, I would think completey differently and feel a rage for my rights. But at the same time, this is the problem. Women can work. The Prophet’s first wife was a really successfull business woman and He was an example. He showed that this is fine. He married a women 25 years older than him to show it is fine. Whereas culturally here it’s unheard of to marry a guy younger. He married a widower, a divorcee… He showed all these taboos should be broken : You think I am the best of all people and this is what I am doing. In terms of culture and religion there is a disparity. In the name of progress, you let go the good parts of your religion too.

How would you describe yourself ? Surely you are not Lady Luxe.

No. You can tell talking to me I am so not into all that. I am like a bit of all my characters. I do have Lady Luxe rebellious traits. In my teenagers I did rebel, not to her extent of course. But in my little ways. I was not aloud to go to concerts and I sneaked out to go. I was not aloud to travel with my friends so I would pretend that I had some university things. I wanted to experience the world, hang out with my friends. I do have Leila’s materialistic streak in me. Sometimes you do get caught up in the last designers sales. I do have a bit of Sugar, the Indian character. I am always struggling with my faith. I always want to become a better person. Nadia, I don’t really relate as much but I do have some of her spiritual aspects as well. And the minute you write a part of you comes out in the characters, the place, the words. You’re there.

You can order Desperate in Dubai

On Amazon :


Or find it in any book store in Dubai

Emirati Writer Ameera Al Hakawai is far from being "Desperate in Dubai"

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"When I joined the Ministry of Education, there were 99% men… I worked so hard to say « Listen to me, I add something. »"

Publié le par Kyradubai

"When I joined the Ministry of Education, there were 99% men… I worked so hard to say « Listen to me, I add something. »"

Jameela Al Muhairi tells about her « journey » working in the Education Department and the fights still ahead. Her passion lead her to become Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau’s Chief and a pioneer in helping private schools flourish in a city which counts 85% of expatriates. INTERVIEW.

How do women help each other as leaders ?

I attended a women’s leaders meeting not long ago and I was impressed as how useful this is and how we can influence and encourage young girls to look at us and become future leaders. We help each other, we talk about how we can encourage the younger Emiratis to be leaders, what obstacles the girls have. We discuss our different approaches.

What are the obstacles the girls still face to succeed?

There was a conference a while ago led by the Dubai Women Establishment in Dubai. Sheikh Mohammed was attending. Women from the GCC shared their challenges and problems they are facing. This is when we realized how lucky we are in this government. This is not « blablabla ». I say that trully from the bottom of my heart. Our government recognizes that we can be Ministers, Members of Parliamant, CEOs, that we can be equal to any men. We can present our ideas and discuss them with the management.

How do you experience it yourself?

When I present things to the Executive Council regarding inspection, fees, early years, different topic in education, I feel I am among them. Sitting there with other women really makes me proud of where we are. Where are my colleagues from the GCC country? Leaders of this country support women in reaching higher levels. For example, I am a board member of Dubai Cares working closely with Minister Reem Al Hashimi. See how lucky we are to represent the UAE when we have delegations from all over the world. We are young women travelling abroad, representing the UAE.

How did you reach that position ?

I am lucky to have a supportive family who allowed me to have a good education despite being a girl and to work in a mixed environment. I did not have to struggle for that. My sister already went to study abroad in the US and in Lebanon in the 60’s and the 70’s.

It was not common at the time ?

No not until the 90’s.

Did you study abroad ?

No, I graduated in Al Ain University. I had the choice to go but I decided to stay because it gave me many opportunities. From an early age, I asked myself « What will I do with my life » ? Nowodays there is no careeer councelling. Students don’t know what they want to do in the future. But in grade 8 or 9 you need to know.

You always knew what you wanted to do ?

I was always passionnate about education. I entered the Ministry of Education as an employee and because I had a good level of English, I focused on private schools. It was my passion. It was a really small sector at the time.

How many private schools were there in the UAE in the 80’s ?

Maybe 200. I looked at regulations, the quality of education, opening new private schools. All my life I worked for the Ministry of Education focusing on private schools. There was a whole floor devoted to the governments’, to support public schools. But I was not interested. I focused on this small department called « Private Schools ».

Why ?

There was the potential, where you could interact with different nationalities, learn from them. I thought I would enhance my education and experience by interacting. I first thought it would be for several years and then I would go to government schools. But every year it was growing. Unbelievable. People moved from all over the world.

The shools also had to adjust. You had to offer more to these new people arriving ?

And the potential investors in this sector. People in this sector where asking how to make a profit.

It is a real business ?

Yes, it never stopped.

How many private schools are there now ?

Dubai has about 150 private schools now. It’s more than doubled in 20 years. Each community established a school supported by the government. Sheikh Rashid Al Makhtoum, the father of Sheikh Mohammed, was looking how to help each community : provide them with a land, give them support from the Board to establish the school adapted to their community. It grew so quickly. In 2006-2007, in one year, ten schools opened in Dubai.

You come from a family dedicated to education ?

My brother (ndlr : Khaled Al Muhairy is the founder and CEO of Evolvence Capital, member of the Board of Governors of Repton) is a businessman but he has this passion. We chat a lot about education and private schools. We need a lot better in Dubai : a school that serves our community, our nationals and give them a good education. If he did a beautiful job at Repton or not, I cannot say because it would be conflict of interest. But it is a sector that is growing.

How did the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) was set up ?

After the Ministry of Education, I still wanted to work for education but what kind of education ? I wanted to add more. There was a good opportunity in 2000 : Sheikh Mohammed developped this concept of free zones for different sectors. Knowledge Village was an opportunity to expand private good quality schools in Dubai. Sheikh Mohammed gave us a huge land. He asked us to bring good investors to build good schools. In 2006, we started putting in place the Dubai Private School Project : we visited schools all over the world, told them to come to Dubai, to set the quality of education we needed here. We went to the UK, Switzerland, to visit the schools we wanted to have in Dubai. We did not insist to have a branch, just a good quality school. There were not enough schools offering International Baccalaureate here. Then Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid assigned me as a member of the Dubai Education Council. But we realized we needed more than the Council, to give advice to private schools and the government. This is where Sheikh Mohammed established KHDA by decree in 2007.

You are now the Head of the Inspection Bureau at KHDA ?

We had an agreement with the Ministry of Education that we would look after all the schools in this process and in all the areas: teachers, private schools, tuition, fees, councelling, everything. The first thing we did was to build a strategy for public and private schools. The mandate covered the early years and higher education. 10 000 people in Dubai contributed to this strategy. It was not just consultants coming from abroad and building it. We have enough experience to know what we need in Dubai, what are our priorities. I focused again on the private sector : our priority was to regulate and make sure that they were providing good quality education. I thought this sector was where I could add value. So I presented it to the government and obtained a decree from Sheikh Hamdan to establish the Bureau : to make sure I had the power to go to any school and ask questions. Then I was assigned Chief of the Department and got the accountability from the government.

You were a pioneer in the field ?

It was a journey. For me. This was something that had never had been done in my country. It did not exist in the UAE. Nobody was controlling what was going on in the schools, to see how children developped, their skills, how schools contributed to the society of Dubai. We developped a framework. The difference with Dubai is that we have a unique multicultural society. It was a challenge. We came up with seven quality indicators that would apply to all curriculums and the public schools. We set scales : outstanding, good, acceptable, unacceptable.

What are the criteria you use? This year it was « UAE national students and special needs » for instance…

When we started we needed a base line. Nobody was ready for it. Inspecting everything in the schools from A to Z, had never been done before. So we needed quality indicators. It was very important. We were not going to invent something from scratch. We needed quality indicators that looked at subjects - maths science, language of the school, Arabic for Arabs and non Arabs, Islamic studies for the Muslims, using the same standards set by the Ministry of Education for public schools and all subject given the same importance) ; development of the children (attitude, behavior, community involvement) ; curriculum (how you teach and how the children learn) ; leadership (Board of Members and their involvement) ; facilites ; ressources ; partnership with the parents. And we graded them. But of course, there is a mechanism to do that. We used people from all over the world to help us inspect certain schools, train them.

How did the schools reacted to the first inspections?

Five years ago, the schools did not know what we expected from them. It came as a shock on the system the first year. There was resistance. They reacted like : « What are these indicators ? I am doing my job. What are you looking at ? It’s all paper… » But at the end of the day, our mandate is to be transparent, to inform any parents : « This is the quality of education the school provides your child with. This is what is happening in the school, on your child’s classroom, so that you understand what we are talking about ». Some schools reactions’ were : « How come you rate me acceptable ? You know how many kids from my school go to Harvard University ? » « Yes, maybe one, but what about the other 2000 ? » These were the questions we had to deal with the first year.

And what was the reaction to the fact that Arabic language was put on the same level as the language of the school ?

Some questionned the emphasis on Arabic language. They asked : « Why you want our children to be able to speak Arabic ? » This is what the government of this country wants : your children to be exposed to this country’s culture and language. To know why I am wearing black. I am not a stranger. We want the children to know why we are establishing this. The schools have to encourage children to know about other. As a human being if you want to be a good citizen, you have to know about each other and respect each other. This is whay we emphasized on the quality indicator number 2 : student development, attitude and behavior, the values of islam. If I am muslim, what do you do for me ? How you respect other’s religion ? What do you know about my culture, and what do I know about yours ? There are 92 nationalities here. How the schools deal with this ? I am British, I know about British culture. I am Muslim, a local, I know about your country more than my country because I attend your school… We wanted to break this.

Are you a mother ?

Not yet but one day Inch Allah !

Would put your kids in the private sector ?

Of course because I see the quality of education.

What are the improvements to be made in the public sector ?

It is so difficult for me to answer that. I inspected them for three years, went to each school in the public sector in Dubai and wrote an individual report and an annual report on the public sector. It is on our website but it is difficult for me to say. When I look at the private sector, it is very interesting because 58% of the locals take their children to private schools and it is growing every year by 5%.

But private schools are expensive?

Locals have the choice to go to the public which is free but they choose the private. It is a big question mark. Why the locals choose the private ?

Aren’t they afraid to loose their Arabic and their culture ?

Yes. KHDA yearly inspection results show that our children are not performing very good in Arabic. They have difficulties. It’s an issue all over Dubai, all over the UAE. Sheikh Mohammed established four initiatives regarding Arabic. Every parent want their child to improve in Arabic. We have a problem with Arabic in the private sector. This is why we emphasized putting the same weight under Arabic, English, Maths or Science. It’s a journey.

But foreigners do not know how long they will stay here and if you impose too much Arabic on them, it’s a problem too?

In private schools, we have Arabic as a first language for locals. They have to use the text books and the standards from the Ministry of Education. Islamic studies are imposed by the Federal government. For expats, we call it foreign language. It is easier. We want the school to be creative on how to teach it. There are not yet there. Some school do it in a very nice way. In some British schools, when blond children with blue eyes see me wearing black and sheila and say « Salamalekoum, my name is … » and try to interact with me, this is beautiful. But my worry is not the second language. I am worried about the first language. The big challenge in our society is to maintain a good level of Arabic. If you loose the language you loose what ? This is so essential in our framework.

How do you influence local families to keep their children in the public sector ?

If the people had faith in the public sector of course, they would have their children attend it. Why waste their money in the private schools ?

How was it for you to work for you here as a woman leader and impose your views on a male dominated environment ?

If you look at the 80’s, it was difficult for women to be in my position, to be a Director. Males dominated everywhere. When you educate a child, you educate girls to be equal to men, if you educate her right. Women in education -I should not say that- are performing better then men. So when the government took this journey of educating the female this is where it started in the UAE. This is how they educated me. I went to university in the 80’s and when I joined the Ministry of Education, there were 99% Emirati and expat men. It was challenging to position myself. I worked so hard to say « Listen to me, I add something. » It was a journey. Because I was passionate and a local and a female, and because the Ministry leaders looked at me as a potential, I was lucky.

What makes the difference ?

Education and the position of the government.

What makes you more « lucky » than other GCC countries ?

Our leaders. In every sector you can see a woman. At a recent government summit, Sheikh Mohammed told 3000 people coming from all the UAE, CEOs, Directors, that men should watch out and work hard otherwise women would take their place. If your leader says something like that … There is four ladies Ministers, it makes you proud. You can be and do whatever you want in this country. I don’t know about the others in GCC but here in the UAE, we are so lucky.

What did girls study 60 years ago ?

Let’s talk about my mother. She was so lucky because her mother insisted that she studied the Coran. This is how she learnt how to read and write. But of course, no maths, no science. In the 60’s, the governemnt of Koweit sent teachers and books to schools here. It started there.

What is the budget for education in the UAE?

Education and Social Affairs are the priority and among the highest budget. Education overall is 9 billion and 10% of it for Dubai ( public sector). There are 24 000 students in the public sector in Dubai and 28 000 students in the private.

For more information and to find your school’s inspection report :


Education landmarks

1954 : the first girls’ school, Al-Zahra, opened in Sharjah.

1958 : the two first girls’ school, Khawla bint Al Azwar in Bud Dubai and Al Khansa in Deira, of opened in Dubai.

1996 : the first girls’ school opened in Abu Dhabi.

The pioneer students :

Maryam Al Khaja

Rafia Abdullah Lootah

Amna Obaid Ghubash

Amal Al-Bassam

Maryam Saleh Al-Osaimi

Before the 50’s :

Education focused on the Holy Qur’an, islamic principles and Arabic language.

1953 :

Official education started funded by the Kowaiti government

1955 :

Egypt granted scholarship to study in Cairo

1971 :

Higher education under the UAE (founded in 1971)

-1976 : UAE University

-1988 : Higher Colleges of Technology

-1998 : Zayed University

2010 :

15% of the Faculty at UAE University are women

51% in private colleges

46% postgraduates

72% in public universities => the highest proportion in the world !

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«L’entreprenariat est quelque chose de nouveau»

Publié le par Kyradubai

«L’entreprenariat est quelque chose de nouveau»

Shaika Al Shamsi a rejoint le Khalifa Fund il y a moins d’un an, un fonds d’investissement du gouvernement d’Abu Dhabi de deux milliards de dirhams (420 millions d'euros) dont le but est de soutenir une nouvelle génération d’entrepreneurs émiriens… Et émiriennes, comme l’explique la toute jeune recrue du département « développement entrepreneurial ». INTERVIEW.

Pourquoi avoir postulé au Khalifa Fund ? Quelle a été votre motivation ?

Honnêtement, lorsque j’ai postulé je ne savais pas exactement ce qu’ils faisaient. Durant l’interview, j’en ai su plus. Maintenant, la motivation c’est la récompense de voir que l’on aide les gens à démarrer leur affaire.

Quel est votre rôle ici ?

Je m’assois avec les candidats –qu’ils aient une idée nouvelle de business ou une affaire établie- pour comprendre leurs besoins, les présenter à un comité et si celui-ci accepte leur proposition nous allons de l’avant développant avec eux une analyse financière, une étude afin de voir si leur projet est réalisable ou non, un stage, un business plan et finalement un prêt. Nous contrôlons aussi les finances à postériori et la partie opérationnelle.

Qui sont vos candidats ?

Des Emiriens. C’est le critère numéro 1. Ils doivent avoir plus de 21 ans, des deux sexes, ayant fait des études ou non. Nous nous intéressons surtout au candidat en lui-même. A-t-il les qualités nécessaires à l’esprit d’entreprise ? Son profil correspond-il à son business model ? Si oui, nous allons de l’avant.

Ils viennent de tous les émirats ?

Oui. Nous avons des branches à Ras Al Khaimah, Ajman, Fujeira, Al Ain, Al Jharbia (à deux heures d’Abu Dhabi) et à Abu Dhabi, la maison mère.

Les fonds viennent d’Abu Dhabi?

Ils sont donnés par Sheikh Khalifa, le président des E.A.U. C’est un fonds gouvernemental. Nous sommes une organisation à but non lucratif. Nous ne prenons aucun intérêt sur les prêts que nous accordons. C’est comme une roue.

Quels sont vos projets ?

A Abu Dhabi, les prêts peuvent atteindre des millions. Certains projets d’usines ont besoin de plus gros prêts. Dans les émirats du nord, la limite est de 500 000 dhs. Mais nous accordons aussi des micro-crédits de 20 000 à to 50 000 dhs.

Quel est le ratio hommes/femmes des candidats qui postulent pour un prêt ?

Entre 20 et 50% de femmes selon les Emirats (le Fonds ne souhaite pas divulguer les chiffres précis par Emirats)

Tout le monde peut postuler?

Oui. Il n’est pas nécessaire d’avoir un petit revenu. Des sheikhs ou des membres de la famille royale peuvent aussi se porter candidats. Mais nous avons aussi le Sougha programme pour des gens qui sont à priori inemployables car ils n’ont pas d’éducation ou des règles très strictes à la maison qui leur interdisent de travailler.

Combien de projets acceptez-vous?

Certains projets sont refusés à la sélection. Sut 10 projets, seuls deux passent ce stade. Ensuite nous analysons les besoins financiers, le business plan. Le comité prend la décision finale. A ce niveau, seul un projet reste en lice. Nous cherchons avant tout à protéger le postulant car il s’agit d’un prêt, pas d’un don.

Quelle forme prend votre soutien ?

Nous faisons du conseil, de la formation et du financement. Nous avons aussi des laboratoires (incubateurs). Nous avons un labo-cuisine à Al Ain pour les restaurateurs et les projets dans la restauration. Ils viennent avec leurs produits et intègrent le programme mais nous leur apportons toutes les ressources nécessaires à la mise en place.

Vous travaillez également pour le Sougha programme ?

Oui, en partie. La fondatrice est Leila Ben Gacem. Elle est tunisienne. C’est une femme extraordinaire. Elle est partie de rien et a créé tout le programme malgré tous les gens qui disaient que ce projet n’était pas réalisable et pas durable. Cela a demandé beaucoup de travail et de patience.

Que veut dire Sougha ?

Le cadeau du voyageur.

Quelle en est l’idée ?

Offrir des opportunités à des Emiriens inemployables ou difficilement exploitables sur le marché de l’emploi et qui ont pourtant un potentiel entrepreneur. En général, ce sont des personnes qui ont des compétences artisanales. Sougha identifie ces artisans, hommes ou femmes. Ils travaillent la feuille de palmier, le sadu (la laine de chèvre), ou le talli (la broderie). Nous avons aussi introduit la fabrication des bougies. Car beaucoup de ces femmes produisent de l’encens, le bukhoor, le dukhoor. Nous avons essayé d’identifier un produit qui utiliserait ce savoir-faire. Nous leur enseignons comment produire la cire, l’emballer, la parfumer. Nous fournissons le matériau de base et elles le vendent et en retirent le profit. En général, elles travaillent de la maison et font ça comme un hobby. Elles travaillent aussi sur leurs vêtements, font des tapis. Nous essayons d’identifier les potentiels et de trouver des opportunités.

Vous allez à elles, elles ne viendraient pas à vous sinon ?

Tout à fait. Elles vivent à Liwa ou Sila à Abu Dhabi, Khor Fakkan à Sharjah, ces régions rurales. Nous travaillons aussi à Fujeira, Ras Al Khaimah et Ajman.

Comment entendez-vous parler d’elles ?

Dans chaque émirat, le Ministère des Affaires sociales dispose d’un endroit où les femmes se réunissent, une sorte de coopérative. Un bus vient les chercher tous les jours afin de leur donner l’opportunité de produire cet artisanat. C’est un lieu de rendez-vous pour elles. Nous identifions donc ces lieux et les contactons. La différence avec Sougha c’est que nous les conseillons afin que leurs produits s’adaptent au marché et soient vendables. Mais dans certaines zones, Leila a aussi frappé aux portes. Elle a carrément fait du porte à porte pour voir qui serait intéressée. Elle les réunissait dans une maison et les formait ou les sensibilisait tout simplement. Car à ce stade, elles ne comprenaient pas encore le concept.

Elles ne comprenaient pas que ce qu’elles fabriquaient avait une valeur pécuniaire ?

Tout à fait. Cela leur a pris du temps pour y croire. Leila a du approcher une soixantaine de femmes et seules quatre sont restées en stage. Lorsque ces quatre là ont commencé à vendre leurs produits, les autres ont commencé à y croire. Donc après avoir identifié ces femmes, nous les laissons fabriquer leur savoir-faire. Nous les aidons à produire des choses plus modernes. Au lieu de faire des tapis, nous leur disons de faire des protections pour les livres, des choses plus faciles à vendre.

Elles n’ont aucune idée du marché ?

Non. Mais vous savez, honnêtement, l’entreprenariat est quelque chose de nouveau ici. Nous sommes tout juste en train de découvrir que nous pouvons faire des choses pour nous mêmes.

Qu’est ce que Sougha leur apporte ?

Beaucoup de confiance en elles. Elles se sentent réhabilitées. Il faut les voir… De timides et vulnérables, elles deviennent présentes, sûres d’elles. Vous les appelez pour leur donner des mesures et elles vous répondent du tac au tac, de ne pas leur faire perdre leur temps ! Elles développent leur propre clientèle car sur chacun des produits nous mettons leur nom et numéro de téléphone. Elles en sont très fières.

A quoi voyez-vous le changement ? Au sein de la communauté ?

Elles deviennent des exemples pour leurs enfants et pour les autres femmes de la communauté. Elles montrent qu’elles peuvent subvenir aux besoins de la famille et aussi aux pères, aux frères et aux maris. Les hommes de la communauté acceptent car ils ne leurs mettent pas d’obstacles. Beaucoup de ces femmes produisent à la maison et par exemple l’équipement du sadu prend de la place. Hors la plupart vivent dans de petites maisons et ce n’est pas un environnement très productif avec les enfants qui sautent par dessus ! Si bien, que lorsqu’elles gagnent un peu d’argent, elles se construisent des ateliers attenant à la maison. Et les hommes les soutiennent sinon ce ne serait pas possible.

Qui sont ces femmes ?

Nous avons près de 150 artisans qui travaillent sous Sougha. Ce sont en général des femmes qui ont de grandes familles et vivent sous le même toit avec leurs enfants et petits enfants. Ils peuvent être jusqu’à 12 dans une petite maison de trois pièces situées dans les villages ou à la périphérie des villes. L’homme de la maison est généralement la seule source de revenu. La plupart de ces femmes ne sont pas éduquées ou illettrées. Elles mènent une vie très simple. Par contre, quel que soit le niveau de vie, vous y verrez toujours un écran plat ou un Ipad.

C’est le contraste actuel ?

Ils ont un mode de vie très traditionnel mais avec des objets de la vie moderne. Et différentes générations vivant dans la même maison. Il existe donc un conflit entre l’envie de conserver ce mode de vie traditionnel et tout de même intégrer des éléments du monde moderne. C’est d’ailleurs le cas dans toutes les familles émiriennes quel que soit leur revenu. C’est le cas chez moi. Nous essayons de maintenir nos traditions mais la jeune génération a un mode de vie occidental.

Vous luttez pour préserver vos valeurs ?

Nous essayons de conserver notre identité, notre héritage et les valeurs des E.A.U.

Pourquoi est-ce si important ?

Sans identité, vous êtes perdus.

Et particulièrement quand les choses changent si vite?

Extrêmement vite. Parfois les gens ont des crises d’identité. Ils ne savent plus qui ils sont.

Diriez-vous que la vieille génération est un peu ébranlée ?

Nos parents le gèrent bien. Ils sont heureux du changement et ils essayent de s’adapter. Mais nos grands parents sont totalement contre.

Qu’enseignez-vous à ces femmes ?

Nous parlons de femmes qui n’ont pas la moindre idée de gestion financière. Beaucoup d’entre elles vendaient à de très petit prix. Et elles se plaignaient qu’elles ne faisaient pas d’argent. Nous leur avons donné un crash course en comptabilité, afin qu’elles comprennent les notions de débit et de crédit. Je vais vous raconter une anecdote amusante. Certaines fabriquent de très jolis sacs en feuilles de palmier. Leila leur a demandé de mettre un prix sur ces sacs, comme exercice. L’une d’elle a proposé 8000 dirhams. Leila lui a demandé pourquoi un tel prix et elle a répondu que c’était le prix de certains sacs de marques connues. Alors Leila l’a étiqueté à 8000 dirhams. Et bien sûr personne ne l’a acheté alors que les autres sacs à des prix raisonnables ont été vendus. Et elle a compris. Un autre cours porte sur la coordination des couleurs. Elles ne savent pas marier les couleurs. Beaucoup de leurs produits avaient des teintes horribles au départ. Nous leur avons appris. Et ces femmes, machala, comprennent vite. Elles apprennent. Elles sont motivées, ambitieuses, passionnées et elles veulent apprendre. Un autre problème que nous rencontrons, est la façon de mesurer. Elles doivent être précises. Elles ne peuvent se permettre une erreur d’un centimètre surtout si c’est pour des fourres d’Ipad par exemple… Et elles utilisent le sheber, la main, ou le dhra’a, le bras, comme unité de mesure ! Mais tout cela change. Elles produisent très exactement les commandes. C’est incroyable comme elles sont devenues opérationnelles.

Quels sont leurs revenus ?

Le plus haut est 139 281 dirhams annuel, avec une moyenne de 11000 dhs par mois. Le plus bas, 1280 dhs annuel, ce qui fait 123 dhs par mois.

A qui vendent–elles ?

Etihad Airways, Intercontinental Hotel, Mercury Hotel, Rotana Hotel, Jumeirah Etihad Towers, NYUniversity, le départment de l’économie… Même chez Bloomingdales !

Et dans quelle tranche d’âge sont-elles ?

Elles ont entre 45 et 50 ans en moyenne. Nous essayons d’intéresser les plus jeunes. A Ras Al Khaimah, nous avions cinq étudiantes dans les media mais qui n’avaient aucun débouché ici. Il leur serait vraiment difficile de trouver du travail sur ce marché inexistant. Alors Leila a organisé un stage de montage et leur a demandé de produire un film court. Elles ont couvert un événement que nous avons organisé à Bastakia. Il fallait les voir à l’œuvre. Elles ont fait un film de très bonne qualité et ont reçu des offres de travail à la suite de ce projet !


Quelques dates clés :

1968 : la première association de femmes à Dubaï voit le jour grâce à Hessa Lootah et Aisha Captin

2006 : Dubai Women Establishment est créé par Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Makhtoum

2009 : Sougha initiative débute à Abu Dhabi

«L’entreprenariat est quelque chose de nouveau»

Mini reportage au Julfar Social Center de Ras Al Khaimah

Une vingtaine de femmes en burga vient chaque matin tisser, broder, coudre et boire le café au centre social de Julfar. Un minibus vient les chercher chez elles et les ramène à l’heure du déjeuner. Tout en discutant, leurs mains s’activent sur leur métier à tisser. Aicha Ali Rashoud Al Malik est l’une d’elle. Elle plie mécaniquement le Khous, les feuilles de palmier avec lesquelles elle fabrique des paniers, des corbeilles, des safra (plateaux) ou des makhda (des petits cônes servant à couvrir les plats). « Je fais ça depuis que je suis enfant. J’ai grandi en faisant ça,» raconte-t-elle. C’est une façon de passer le temps de façon utile et maintenant une opportunité de venir discuter avec les autres femmes de la communauté et d’en rencontrer d’autres. Puis Leila Ben Gacem est venue un jour leur donner une séance de sensibilisation au programme de Sougha. Bientôt, Aicha et ses camarades auront l’opportunité de se moderniser, apprendre à travailler de façon plus organisée, plus productive et proposer des produits plus adapté au marché. « Cela me donne le moral de venir ici, un objectif que je n’avais pas avant, » ajoute Aicha. La plupart de ces femmes, sont veuves mais pour celles qui ont des maris, comme Aïcha, ils commenceront par froncer les sourcils mais lorsqu’elles ramèneront leurs premières contributions au revenu familial, ils conviendront que c’est somme toute une bonne chose que leurs épouses montent leur micro affaire. Surtout dans un domaine qui faisait partie de la vie traditionnelle bédouine et qui tombait en désuétude. Sougha apporte un renouveau à l’artisanat local en leur apprenant à fabriquer des plus petits effets adaptés à la vie moderne : housses pour Ipad, protèges-téléphones ou petits sacs à main. Pour Shaikha et sa collègue, ces femmes déterminés, ponctuelles, qui viennent régulièrement au centre ne manquant aucune occasion d’apprendre, c’est à peine une surprise. « Vous savez, pour nous les femmes, c’est une lutte permanente pour obtenir tout ce que nous voulons. Pour les hommes, c’est facile. Tout leur tombe dans la main. C’est quelque chose de naturel d’avoir accès à ce qu’ils désirent. Cela nous rend plus déterminées, plus concentrées, plus passionnées et plus travailleuses aussi, » confie Shaikha.

«L’entreprenariat est quelque chose de nouveau»

L’autre passion de Shaikha Al Shamsi : les livres

Shaika avait une passion. Et elle a désormais un nom : The bookshelter. Avec sa meilleure amie Maryam Al Khayat, elle aussi lectrice assidue et écrivain en herbe, elles ont eu l’idée de monter une plateforme de livres à adopter sur internet. Succès immédiat. « En 2006, nous animions un site « atelier d’écriture » en marge duquel nous proposions des livres à qui voulait les récupérer. Tout de suite des gens les ont demandé et ont proposé d’en donner en échange. Le projet a été immédiatement durable. Tout était recyclé. Nous aimions cette idée que les livres soient adoptés ! Qu’il leur soit donné une seconde chance, » raconte Shaikha. Les deux jeunes femmes ont du fermer le site pour des raisons personnelles. Mais en novembre 2012, elles décident de relancer cette formidable initiative. « Nous proposons des livres gratuits. Nous encourageons les gens à lire. De nos jours, la lecture est compromise. On est sans cesse distrait avec nos blackberry, nos Ipads… La lecture ne fait plus partie de notre routine quotidienne et les livres sont chers, » explique Shaikha. Une culture du livre qui diminue malgré un très fort taux d’alphabétisation aux Emirats. Selon une étude de l’Unesco menée entre 2000 et 2008, 90% de la population émirienne de plus de 15 ans sait lire. Bookshelter peut se targuer d’avoir une moyenne de 3000 livres en circulation, de la littérature pour enfants, de la fiction et de la non fiction : 90% en anglais, quelques rares romans en arabe, des livres en français et allemand et un public très varié. Et cette passion pour les livres, Shaikha et Maryam ont décidé de la transmettre aux plus jeunes de leurs compatriotes. « Nous avons approché des lieux où nous avons pensé qu’il serait bon qu’il y ait une bibliothèque. Nous fournissons les 100-150 premiers exemplaires et nous installons une boîte de dons. Cela devient la bibliothèque personnelle gratuite de la communauté et elle est durable car la plupart du temps les gens qui prennent des livres en donnent aussi, » explique Shaikha. Le Maraya Art Centre d’Al Qasba à Sharjah, leur première bibliothèque, compte maintenant 500 livres. Elles ont aussi sévi au Thalassemia Center du Latifa Hospital à Dubaï, pour les patients et leurs parents « car ils passent des semaines entières en traitement ». Et enfin, à l’école pour filles d’Al Mataf à Ras Al Khaimah, elles ont voulu que chaque classe se fasse sa propre petite bibliothèque en trouvant un sponsor pour les meubles et approvisionnant l’école avec 700 livres. Les élèves prennent soin de leur bibliothèque et les professeurs intègrent même certains ouvrages dans le curriculum. Pour que les livres deviennent une part de leur existence comme ils l’ont été pour Shaikha et Maryam. « Car les livres ouvrent non seulement vos horizons, vos esprits, vous emmènent dans la vie des autres et vous apportent des connaissances, mais ils vous donnent aussi un sentiment de sécurité, » conclut-elle.


Les femmes au travail au Julfar Center

Les femmes au travail au Julfar Center

C'est aussi l'occasion de se retrouver et de perpétuer les traditions.

C'est aussi l'occasion de se retrouver et de perpétuer les traditions.

Les femmes repartent en bus à l'heure du déjeuner.

Les femmes repartent en bus à l'heure du déjeuner.

Voir les commentaires

« Le défi est à la maison, pas sur le terrain »

Publié le par Kyradubai

« Le défi est à la maison, pas sur le terrain »

Maria Al Qassim, responsable de programme pour Dubai Cares, la plus grande organisation caritative de Dubaï, croit profondément aux hommes, et à la femme. Pas d’angélisme mais un profond idéalisme chez cette jeune émirienne qui espère familiariser ses pairs à l’engagement des femmes locales dans l’humanitaire. INTERVIEW.

NB: In english at the bottom

Quelle est la mission de Dubai Cares et comment y êtes-vous entrée?

Dubai Cares a été lancé en septembre 2007. J’ai eu de la chance d’être parmi les membres de l’équipe fondatrice. Je sortais tout juste de l’université et ils m’ont littéralement engagée deux semaines plus tard ! J’ai un diplôme de marketing de Dubai Unversity. J’ai eu beaucoup de chance d’avoir trouvé un projet aussi inspirant dans lequel m’investir. Ils voulaient des jeunes filles émiriennes et j’ai eu la chance d’être la seconde personne engagée. J’avais 22 ans. C’était une expérience merveilleuse. Très spirituelle. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Makhtoum voulait créer une grande banque pour la philanthropie comme il l’a fait pour les autres industries. Dubai Cares était censée être la contribution humanitaire de Dubaï. Parce qu’il croit à l’éducation et comment l’éducation contribue à casser le cycle de pauvreté. Cela aurait pu se faire dans n’importe quel domaine, mais il a choisi l’éducation car il y croit.

Pourquoi Dubai Cares est quelque chose d’important pour Sheikh Mohammed ?

C’était peu de temps après que soient annoncés les objectifs du Millenium. C’était donc sa contribution au problème majeur et ignoré de l’éducation dans les pays du Sud, surtout l’école primaire. Et la contribution de Dubaï au développement : comment aborder MDG 2, 3, ou 8 (Millenium Development Goals) qu’il s’agisse de la mise à disposition d’écoles primaires dans les pays en voie de développement, de l’égalité des sexes, de l’autonomie des femmes grâce à l’éducation.

Quelles valeurs souhaitez-vous véhiculer ?

L’une des valeurs dans laquelle nous croyons fermement est la dignité. Les gens devraient avoir l’opportunité de choisir la vie qu’ils désirent et non qu’elle leur soit dictée par les circonstances. La façon la plus forte d’atteindre ce but est l’éducation. Si vous donnez à quelqu’un une chose que personne ne peut leur reprendre, comme l’éducation, c’est une opportunité et une nouvelle chance. La confiance en soi, la dignité, l’autonomisation sont des valeurs auxquelles nous croyons fort. Nous ne croyons pas aux différences de principes, de religion ou d’ethnicité. Dubai Cares n’est affilié à aucune religion ou groupe particulier. Nous croyons à l’humanité et au fait que nous devrions tous nous aider les uns les autres, peu importe toutes ces discriminations.

Et vos valeurs personnelles?

La raison pour laquelle j’ai survécu si longtemps ici c’est la synergie entre mes valeurs personnelles et Dubai Cares. J’ai foi dans l’humanité et non dans les différences de couleurs de peau, d’ethnies, de religions. Je crois en les gens et leur bonté. C’est ce que j’ai en commun avec Dubai Cares. Je crois à la responsabilisation et plus particulièrement à l’habilitation des femmes. Et cette organisation me donne l’opportunité de faire évoluer les choses dans un domaine auquel je crois fermement. Je crois vraiment aux femmes. Je crois que si vous donnez à une femme la possibilité de changer le monde, elle peut vous surprendre et y arriver.

Même plus que les hommes ?

Plus que les hommes, si vous croyez en elles.

Vous êtes donc passionnée par votre travail ?

Je le suis.

Est-ce important pour une femme de travailler, d’être impliquée professionnellement ?

En définitive, c’est son choix. Mais elle devrait pouvoir recevoir l’éducation nécessaire, qu’elle décide d’être une mère, une enseignante, une professionnelle. C’est essentiel. Je crois aux valeurs de l’éducation pour les femmes en général.

Qu’est ce que ce travail vous a apporté ?

Il m’a aidé à me comprendre. J’ai eu beaucoup de chance et c’est ce que mon chef me dit : Dubai Cares vous donne l’opportunité de vous découvrir. Cela a été cinq années d’auto-découverte non stop ! J’ai travaillé deux ans et demi puis j’ai pu faire un masters en développement à Londres car je veux en savoir sur le sujet : son histoire afin de contribuer de la façon la plus efficace.

C’était la première fois que vous alliez à l’étranger ?


Cela a dû être une expérience incroyable ?

Cela m’a ouvert les yeux. J’ai rencontré des gens brillants qui partageaient la même passion, cette envie de changer le monde. C’était très inspirant. Que vous soyez sur le terrain à rencontrer les mères, les enfants, les enseignants, les membres des communautés ou que vous soyez assis dans un auditorium à écouter un prof ou à boire un café avec vos pairs, ce sont toujours des opportunités, des contacts humains que vous n’auriez pas ailleurs.

En vous laissant étudier à l’étranger, vos parents vous ont donné une vraie opportunité ?

Ce n’a pas été un problème. Ça l’est de moins en moins aux Emirats. J’ai fait un masters à l’étranger tout comme ma sœur. Nous ne l’avons pas fait avant parce qu’ils pensaient que nous étions trop jeunes. Cela fait partie de ma carrière et ils le comprennent.

Votre logo est très accrocheur, qu’est-il censé dire ?

Ce sont cinq mains de couleurs différentes montrant que Dubaï rayonne sur les cinq continents. Les couleurs vives symbolisent le bonheur et comment l’éducation devrait améliorer le bien-être des enfants du monde entier.

Quelle est votre vision ?

Nous croyons que l’éducation peut briser le cercle vicieux de la pauvreté.

Où en est l’accès à l’éducation aux E.A.U ?

Nous n’avons pas de programme ici mais nous avons de nombreuses activités pour sensibiliser la population à l’éducation, à la santé et à la nutrition. Nous essayons aussi de motiver les jeunes, les enfants et la communauté au bénévolat. Jusque là nous avons eu beaucoup de succès. Nous avons de nombreuses campagnes. En 2009, nous avons lancé WASH: l’eau et les conditions d’hygiène dans les écoles. Nous essayons de sensibiliser les gens aux problèmes rencontrés par les enfants des pays en voie de développement. Par exemple, qu’un enfant ne peut aller à l’école car il doit aller chercher de l‘eau pour sa famille et faire six kilomètres pour y arriver. Lorsqu’il sera de retour, l’école sera finie. Nous leur faisons prendre conscience et réaliser ce qu’on peut faire, comme construire un puits dans l’école. Nous avons aussi eu une campagne de santé et nutrition à l’école : offrir des repas chauds ou encourager les familles à envoyer leurs enfants à l’école plutôt que travailler dans les champs. Toutes ces choses associées à l‘école qui peuvent avoir un impact sur l’inscription et l’apprentissage de l’enfant.

Et les bénévoles ici ?

Nous venons de faire une campagne à ce sujet. « La marche pour l’éducation » a lieu chaque année. C’est une façon de montrer aux communautés ce que cela représente pour un enfante de marcher pour aller au point d’eau le plus proche. 200 bénévoles nous ont aidés à organiser cet événement. Plus de 5000 adultes ont participé à la marche. C’est une magnifique façon d’expliquer les choses et de leur faire prendre conscience des privilèges qu’ils ont et que les enfants de ces pays n’ont pas.

Qu’est ce qui fait la différence à Dubaï ? Y a-t-il plus donateurs ? Plus de possibilités ?

La chose la plus importante à Dubaï, ce ne sont pas les tours, les immeubles ou les malls, mais les communautés si diverses. C’est quelque chose de grande valeur pour Dubai Cares. Nous avons des gens de partout dans le monde, d’horizons différents. Toutes ces communautés contribuent à leur façon. Elles reflètent l’idée de Dubai Cares. Lorsque nous disons que nous ne croyons pas aux différences de nationalités ou de religions, voilà pourquoi nous parvenons à attirer autant de gens de communautés différentes.

Quel est votre budget ?

Nous travaillons dans plus de 28 pays. Je n’ai pas le budget exact en tête mais notre plus gros programme en Afrique, le Mali, coûte environ 16 millions de dollars. C’est le coût moyen de nos programmes.

D’où viennent les fonds ?

De la communauté. En 2007, pour notre campagne de fonds, nous avons réussi à lever près d’un milliard de dollars. Nous avons des donateurs avec de gros moyens mais aussi des personnes de la classe moyenne.

Surtout des locaux ?

Non tout le monde. Certains de nos plus gros donateurs ne sont pas locaux. Sunny Varkey, l’homme d’affaire indien, est notre plus gros donateur. Nous ne répertorions pas les nationalités de nos donateurs mais c’est un public très large.

Pour quels programmes travaillez-vous ?

En Ethiopie, Bosnie Herzégovine, Lesotho, Inde, Mali.

Vous voyagez beaucoup ?


Vous êtes célibataire ?

Non, en fait je suis enceinte ! Je vais avoir un petit garçon. J’ai un peu moins voyagé les six derniers mois. Mais dès que j’aurais mon bébé je vais recommencer à voyager. Une grande partie de mon travail est d’aller sur le terrain et de parler aux gens, m’assurer que leurs besoins sont satisfaits, que nos programmes sont assurés comme ils le doivent, les fonds utilisés sciemment.

Quelles scènes vous ont particulièrement émues sur le terrain ?

Il y en a beaucoup. Au Bangladesh, les inondations sont un énorme problème. Les enfants ne peuvent plus aller à l’école car ils doivent carrément nager pour s’y rendre ! C’est important d’aller sur le terrain, car vous ne lisez pas ce genre de choses dans les rapports. Nous avons donc acheté un bateau pour amener les enfants à l’école sans qu’ils aient besoin de nager en eaux profondes. Egalement, un programme d’école informelle dans une région très reculée du Bangladesh. Cela fait chaud au cœur de voir comment chacun essaie d’aider. Nous essayons d’impliquer un maximum de gens de la communauté : les parents, le chef de la communauté, afin que tout le monde s’intéresse au programme. Je me souviens de cet endroit mis à disposition par un villageois et du professeur bénévole qui n’avait pas 20 ans. Je n’ai jamais vu quelqu’un enseigner avec tant d’enthousiasme. Il était si engageant. Les élèves le regardaient les yeux écarquillés alors qu’il leur parlait de la pyramide alimentaire et des vitamines. Il y avait tant d’excitation, la salle étai si petite alors il y avait des enfants partout, aux fenêtres pour essayer de suivre. C’était la plus belle des choses à voir.

Quelles qualités sont nécessaires pour travailler dans l’humanitaire ?

Il faut être très flexible et ouvert aux différentes cultures, aux gens, au monde. Il faut être préparer à voir des situations tragiques. Ce n’est pas un boulot attirant. Il y a beaucoup de déplacements. Au début, j’ai pensé que j’aurais de la peine à supporter. C’est dur d’éprouver de la compassion pour eux car ils n’en ont pas pour eux-mêmes. La dignité qu’ils ont… Ils sourient tout le temps. Ils pensent qu’ils ont tout.

Que souhaitez-vous à la prochaine génération de filles des E.A.U ?

Je leur souhaite de vivre de telles rencontres. Ce n’est pas très courant pour les gens des Emirats d’aller dans les pays en voie de développement. C’est un problème global. Les gens sont exposés à cela par la télé ou internet mais n’y vont pas, n’en font pas l’expérience. Je pense que c’est quelque chose que les gens devraient faire au moins une fois dans leur vie. C’est quelque chose que j’ai hâte de partager avec mon enfant. Je voudrais qu’il y aille et aie cette expérience.

Pour réaliser la chance qu’il a ?

Oui, les privilèges que nous avons.

Comment est-ce d’être à ce poste de Program Officer, étant une femme locale ?

Je pense vraiment que lorsque vous arrivez dans ce domaine, les nationalités cessent d’exister. C’est le même constat pour tout le monde. Le seul challenge que les femmes ont à relever ici, c’est obtenir le soutien de leur famille. Le défi se trouve à la maison, pas sur le terrain. Trouver quelqu’un de votre entourage qui vous soutienne car ce domaine n’est pas facile. On peut comprendre qu’ils se fassent du souci que vous partiez là bas. Ils entendent des choses sur les pays en voie de développement qui les bousculent. C’est compréhensible. Mais si vous avez ce soutien, c’est tellement plus facile pour vous de vous y rendre et de faire votre travail. Ils comprennent de mieux en mieux pourquoi on le fait. Ils disent souvent : « Nous savons qu’il y a des besoins et que quelqu’un doit y aller mais pourquoi toi ? ». Mais finalement ils comprennent que si tu n’y vas pas, beaucoup d’autres ne serons pas encouragés à y aller. En faisant cela, j’espère vraiment que plus de gens vont se familiariser à l’idée de femmes émiriennes dans ce genre de travail. Et peu à peu, cela change.

Avez-vous dû vous battre pour atteindre ce poste ?

D’une façon subtile. J’ai poussé petit à petit pour obtenir ce que je voulais. C’est comme cela que ça a marché. Je suis très reconnaissante de ce que j’ai.


« The real challenge is at home, not on the field »

Maria Al Qassim, Program Officer at Dubai Cares, the most important humanitarian organization of Dubaï, truely believes in men, but also women. This young Emirati, idealistic in the true sense, hopes her experience will help promote the involvement of her peers in the humanitarian field. INTERVIEW.

What is the mission of Dubai Care and how did you get involved ?

Dubai Cares was launched in September 2007. I was lucky to be one of the founding team members. Fresh out of college. They literally hired me two weeks after I graduated from Dubai Unversity in marketing. And I thought I was so lucky to have found something so inspiring to be part of. I was very lucky to be the second employee to be hired. I was 22. It was a wonderful experience. A very spiritual one. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Makhtoum wanted to create a big bank in philantropy like he did in any other industries. So Dubai Cares was supposed to be Dubai’s contribution to the world to help. Because he believes in education and education contributes to break the cycle of poverty. It could have been any other area but he chose education because he believes in it.

Why is Dubai Cares important for Sheikh Mohammed ?

It was shorly after the Millenium goals were anounced so it was his contribution to the very important and ignored problem of education in the Southern world, especially primary education. It was also Dubai’s contribution to the millenium development cause, how can we tackle MDG 2, 3, and 8 (Millenium Development Goals) whether it is the provision of primary education to children in developing countries, or the gender equality, or women empowerment with education.

What are the values Dubai Cares wish to convey ?

One of the values we really believe in is dignity and that people should have opportunities to choose the life they want for them and not having it dictated upon them by circumstances. The strongest way to do that, is through education. If you empower someone by giving them that something nobody can take away from them which is education, you give them this big opprtunity that nobody can take away from them. Giving them a new stake of life. Self confidence, dignity and empowerment are values we strongly believe in in Dubai Cares. We don’t believe in differences between people, creed or religion or ethnicity… Dubai Cares is not affliliated with any religion or particular group. We believe in humanity and that everybody should be helping each other regardless of all these discriminations.

And your values ?

I think the reason I survived in Dubai Cares for so long is because there’s a lot of synergies between my own personal values and Dubai Cares. I believe in humanity and not in differences between skin colors, ethnicities, religions. I believe in people and the goodness in people. I believe in empowerment and especially women empowerment. Dubai Cares gives me this opportunity to make changes within that segment in which I strongly believe in.

I really believe in women and I believe if you give women that opportunity to change the world, she can surprise you by doing that.

Even more than men ?

Even more than men if you believe in her.

So you are very passionate about your job ?

I am.

Is it important for women to work, to be professionally involved ?

Ultimately for a woman to be professionnally involved is a choice of hers. But what should not be a choice is to have an education, whether she chooses to be a mother or a teacher or a professional woman, then education is essential. I believe in the values of education for women in general.

What did this job brought you ?

This job helped me understand myself. I was very lucky and this is what my boss always tells me: Dubai Cares gives you the opportunity to discover yourself. It has been five years of non stop self discovery. I worked the first two and a half years. I then went to do a masters degree in development because I wanted to learn more about it : its history, how I could contribute better. I went away for a year to London.

Was it the first time you went abroad ?


That must have been an amazing experience ?

It was very eye opening. I met brilliant people. We all shared the same passion, this drive to change the world to the better. It was very inspiring. Whether your in the field meeting with the children, the mothers, the teachers, the community members, or sitting in a lecture hall accross a professor who is lecturing or sitting in a coffee shop with your peers discussing, there is always opportunities and human contact that you cannot get anywhere else.

So your parents gave you a real opportunity by letting you study alone abroad ?

That was not an issue. It is becoming less and less of an issue in the UAE. I went to get my masters degree abroad and so did my sister. I think the reason we did not go before was that they thought we were too young. It was part of my career and they understood it.

I really like Dubai Cares’ logo, what does it say ?

These are five hands with different colors basically saying Dubai Cares outreaches the five continents. The colors are cheerfull, symbolizing happiness and ow education should provide well being of children all over the world.

What is Dubai Cares’ vision ?

We believe that through education we can break the cycle of poverty.

How is it here in the UAE regarding access to education ?

We do not have programs here but we have a lot of activities to increase the awareness of the population particularly in education, health and nutrition. We also try to drill the volunteer drive within the youth, the children and the community. So far we have been very successful with that. We have many campaigns. In 2009, we had the WASH: water and sanitation hygiene in school. How do we promote health for children in developing countrie. We make people aware of issues that the children in developing countries face. For instance, a child cannot go to school because he needs to fetch water for his family and that is six kilometers away and by the time he comes back school is over. So we just make them aware of these issues and help them understand what we can do. Like building a well in the schools. We also had a school health and nutrition campaign about how do we provide children with hot meals at school and encourage the families to send their kids in class instead of working in the field. It’s all these things related to school that can affect a child’s inrolment or learnings in the school. That’s what we do.

What about the volunteers here ?

We just had a volunteering drive. « The Walf for education » takes place every year. To give the community in the UAE an idea of how long a child has to walk in order to go to the nearest drinking point. To help organize this event we had over 200 volunteers. And we had more than 5000 adults. It is a beautiful way to explain things to children here and make them aware of the privileges they have and that other kids in developing countries don’t.

What makes a difference in Dubai, there are more donors than elsewhere, more possibilities ?

The most important thing about Dubai is not the towers or the buildings or the shopping malls, the strenght of Dubai is its community. Very diverse. This is something that helps Dubai Cares. We have people from all over the world with different backgrounds and it helps us to have a wider presence among the community of Dubai. They all contribute in different ways. They really reflect what Dubai Cares is about. When we say we don’t believe in nationalies or religions, this is what it is about and that’s why we are able to attract so many people from the different communities.

What is the budget you are dealing with ?

We work in over 28 countries. I don’t have an exact budget in mind but our biggest program in Africa, which is Mali, costs about 16 million dollars. That’s on average what our program cost. We have smaller and bigger ones but this is an average.

Where the funds come from ?

The community. We were able to raise a significant amount in 2007 for our first fundraising drive which was close to a billion dollars. We have donors with big means but also average person of the community.

Donors are mainly locals?

No, everybody. Some of our biggest donors are not locals. Sunny Varkey, the Indian businessman for instance, is one our biggest donor. We don’t keep track of the nationalites of our donors but it is a very wide audience.

Can you tell me about the programs you work for ?

Ethiopia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Lesotho, India, Mali.

You get to travel a lot ?


Are you single ?

No actually I am pregnant and will have a baby boy soon ! I have travelled a bit less in the past six months. I will travel as soon as I have my baby. A very important part of the job is go to the field and speak to people, make sure their needs ar meant and that our program is being delivered the way we want it to be, people donations are being used the way they are supposed to.

Tell me a story that particularly moved you in the field ?

There are many. In Bangladesh, flooding is a huge issue. The kids can’t go to school because they literally have to swim to get there. This is why it is important to be in the field because you don’t get to hear about these stories from reports. So we purchased a boat that can get the kids to school safely without having to swim in the deep water. Also a program of an informal school in a very remote area in Bangladesh. It is very heartwarming to see how everybody comes to help with this. We try to involve as many communiy members as possible including parents, the head of the community, so everybody gets interested in the program. The classroom was donated by one of the village member and the teacher was also a volunteer, less then 20 years old. I never saw someone teach with so much enthousiasm. He was so ingaging. The students were looking at him with wide eyes. He was teaching them about nutrition, vitamins and the food pyramid. There was so much excitment form the kids and the classroom was small you would see little children stuck in the window trying to look as well. It was the most beautiful thing.

What qualities are needed to work in the humanitarian field ?

You have to be very flexible and open to different cultures, to people, to the world. You need to be prepared for tragic stuations it’s not a fancy job, a lot of travelling. When I came to this job, I thought it would be very difficult for me to handle. It is difficult to feel sympathy because they dont feel sympathy for themselves. The amount of dignity, they are always smiling. They think that they have everything.

What do you wish for the next generation of girls in the UAE ?

I wish people experience these encounters. It is not very common for people from the UAE to visit developing countries. I think it’s a global problem. People are exposed to these things through tv or internet but to actually go there and experience it... I think it is something people should at least do once in their life. It is something I look forward to do with my child. I would want him to go and experience this.

To realize the luck he has ?

Yes. The privileges we have.

How is it to work in your job being an Emirati woman ?

I really think that when you enter this field, nationality ceases to exist and it is the same experience for me, for you for any person of any natonality who go there. The only challenge women face here is getting the support from their families. The real challenge is at home and not on the field. Finding someone who will supprt you in this field, because it is not an easy one. You can understand that they can be worried about you going there. They hear about things from devloping countries they are not comfortable with. It’s understandable but if you get that support it is so much easier for you to go there and do your job. Eventually they start to understand more and more why you do this. The argument is « We know there are need sand someone has to do it, but what does it have to be you ? » So eventually they come to understand that if I don’t do it then many others will not be encouraged. Through me doing this, I really hope that more people will get used to that idea of Emirati women doing that kind of work. And slowly it happens.

So you had to fight to be in your posiiton ?

In a very subtle way. Slowly. I pushed little by little to get what I wanted that’s how it worked. I am very grateful for what I have.


Vision : help a million children have access to education in Developing countries

Raised in 2007 : 1,7 billion dirhams

Action : 28 countries, 7 millions children

Fields of programmes :

Building and renovating schools

Supplying school materials

Teacher training and development

Health and nutrition projects

Curriculum development

Plus :

Emergency response

Equal gender and ethic representation in schooling

Locally : volunteer, awareness and fund-raising initiatives

For more info and to donate :


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« Servir d’exemple est très important pour moi»

Publié le par Kyradubai

« Servir d’exemple est très important pour moi»

Nayla Al Khaja, réalisatrice et productrice émirienne, fondatrice de la maison de production D-Seven, parle de son dernier projet pour l’initiative Soul of Dubai ainsi que des hauts et des bas de son audacieuse carrière dans le cinéma. Si la liberté totale n’existe pas encore, les EAU sont les plus progressifs du Moyen Orient en terme de production cinématographique, dit-elle. INTERVIEW.

Est-ce l’absence de producteurs locaux qui vous a poussée à créer votre propre boîte de production ?

Oui. J’adore les affaires et le monde de la création. J’aime combiner les deux. C’était très naturel pour moi de développer ma propre entreprise. J’étais free-lance agréée du département de l’économie dès l’âge de 21 ans. J’ai toujours eu un côté entrepreneur et j’ai toujours levé des fonds pour des initiatives artistiques. J’ai un talent pour les affaires, la négociation…

Vous avez débuté votre carrière en radio ?

J’étais Radio Jockey. J’avais mon show. Comme je travaillais aussi pour le département marketing, j’ai réussi à obtenir deux sponsors pour mon émission. Ils m’ont voulue à plein temps ! Mais j’aimais le divertissement alors j’ai fait les deux. J’ai fait ça un an avant de partir pour Toronto. J’y ai refait des études universitaires, de zéro. Je n’avais jamais pu étudier à l’étranger en raison de mon sexe. J’ai initialement fait des études ici.

En raison de votre sexe, pouvez-vous expliquer ?

Mes parents ne voulaient pas que je voyage seule sans un mari ou un oncle… J’ai étudié au Women’s College car c’était ça ou la maison. Ensuite, il y a eu un trou, puis je suis partie pour Toronto. Et comme ils n’étaient pas heureux que je parte, je me suis mariée.

Vous vous êtes donc mariée pour étudier à l’étranger ?

Correct. Six jours après m’avoir emmenée là bas, avec mon « mari » nous avons eu une petite discussion sur son rôle, sur le fait qu’il était mon visa à l’éducation.

En gros vous avez divorcé ?

Oui. Nous sommes restés bons amis.

Quelle est votre relation avec vos parents vu que votre carrière a commencé sur un conflit?

A ce moment là, j’étais la première femme dans le domaine, C’était un peu comme la première femme au volant dans les années 60 : tout le monde a les yeux tournés vers vous! Mes parents ne savaient pas quoi penser. Ils étaient inquiets. Le cinéma peut être noir, avoir un côté underground, beaucoup de fêtes… Ils ont pensé que j’allais vers le sombre…

Et vous étiez aussi sous les projecteurs?

Tout à fait. Cela voulait dire que j’étais sans cesse exposée. Si je fais quelque chose de mal, je serai exposée. Notre société est très tribale. Tout est question de réputation. La réputation de la famille. Ils avaient beaucoup de craintes.

Vous vous attaquez aussi à des sujets controversés dans vos films ?

Mon premier film était Unveiling Dubai, un documentaire pas du tout controversé. Un projet d’étude. C’était mon regard et celui d’un autre réalisateur sur Dubaï. Pas de problème. Le gouvernement a beaucoup aimé le film et cela m’a ouvert des portes pour ce que je voulais faire. Mon deuxième film, Arabana parle de maltraitance sur les enfants, de pédophilie. Je l’ai tourné. C’était mon premier film de fiction en 35 mm. Une très belle expérience. Et travailler avec des acteurs…

Pourquoi vouliez-vous traiter un sujet aussi tabou ?

Parce que le film est basé sur ma propre histoire. Très jeune, je me suis retrouvée dans une situation où je n’ai pas été violée mais très j’ai failli l’être et je me souviens de ce sentiment, de la peur. Je voulais capter cette émotion. Nous avons projeté ce film dans de nombreuses organisations, surtout des femmes, et elles ont commencé à témoigner de leurs propres expériences en tant qu’enfant. Certaines se sont mises à pleurer car elles n’avaient encore jamais révélé leur histoire. Les films peuvent parfois avoir ce rôle.

Cela demande beaucoup de courage de rendre publique une histoire aussi personnelle ?

Cela m’a beaucoup aidée. Faire ce film m’a libérée. J’ai dépassé la peur qui a été la mienne à 7 ans. Certaines femmes ont parlé de leurs problèmes. C’était bien. Ce film était incroyable. Pas le film en lui-même mais ce qu’il a permis de faire. Grâce à cela, nous avons gagné l’argent nécessaire aux études de l’actrice. Elle n’en avait pas les moyens. Je suis très engagée dans l’éducation des femmes. J’y crois de tout cœur. Parce que j’en ai été privée. On ne devrait pas faire empêcher les filles d’étudier. Les filles ne devraient pas se retrouver dans des situations telles qu’elles doivent se marier pour avoir accès à l’éducation. C’est mal.

La pédophilie et la maltraitance sur enfants sont courants ici ?

Non c’est un problème global. J’ai des recherches et j’ai découvert que l’architecture d’une maison joue un rôle important. Si la maison est grande, qu’il y a beaucoup de passages, même si vous surveillez bien vos enfants, les probabilités sont très grandes. C’est ce qui arrive dans le film. La fille habite une immense maison avec une cour énorme. Les parents peuvent difficilement voir ce qui se passe.

Avez-vous eu affaire à la censure ? Comment cela marche ici ?

Vous devez remettre vos scénari au Media Council. En dix ans les choses se sont beaucoup améliorées. Ils sont beaucoup plus flexible, moins stricts. Je n’aurais jamais pu filmer ce que je filme dans les films aujourd’hui. C’est un progrès en lien direct avec les nombreux festivals de films du Moyen Orient. Comme beaucoup d’entre eux ne sont pas censurés, cela a aidé à la sensibilisation ici, au respect du point de vue de l’artiste. Certes nous ne sommes pas complètement libres, mais au Moyen Orient nous sommes les plus progressifs.

Quelles ont été les réactions du public et de votre entourage sur le film ?

J’ai reçu des remarques très négatives mais ce n’est pas grave car les gens ont des opinions différentes. Certains venaient de ma propre communauté. Ils disaient que je devrais quitter le pays pour toujours. Comme réalisatrice je ne devrais pas faire ce genre de choses. Mais cela représente 10%, même pas, peut être 5% des gens. La majorité, et surtout les hommes d’ailleurs, me soutiennent. Mes collègues réalisateurs masculins, par exemple. Et mon plus grand soutien vient de mon frère. Il me pousse à fond.

Quels métiers exercent vos parents ?

Mes parents sont tous deux entrepreneurs. Ma mère dirigeait une école, l’a vendue et est dans l’immobilier. Mon père a gagné le prix de la meilleure entreprise de l’année dans les médias.

Vous avez également reçu les prix de la plus jeune entrepreneuse et femme de l'année en 2005. Vous marchez sur les traces de votre père ?

J’ai reçu un prix, ma boîte a reçu un prix ce qui est bien car dans le cinéma c’est un travail d’équipe. Je suis fière d’avoir vraiment une bonne équipe.

Ecrivez-vous vos scénarios ?

Les courts oui, mais pour les documentaires et les longs, j’ai un auteur.

Avez-vous pour ambition d’éduquer, de sensibiliser le public sur certains sujets ?

C’est primordial. Cette année mon ordre du jour central consiste à visiter des écoles. Je me suis rendue dans trois écoles le mois dernier pour enseigner aux enfants à trouver leur voie à travers le cinéma, n’importe quel forme d’art, la musique, la danse, la peinture… Leur apporter la confiance grâce à une formation, des ateliers. C’est ma façon de rendre à la communauté. Les prix c’est bien mais le mieux c’est quand je reçois un mail d’une fille de 16 ans qui me dit qu’elle veut suivre mes pas, se servir de mon exemple auprès de sa famille. Voilà, j’ai réussi. Cela sert à la prochaine génération. Servir d’exemple est très important pour moi. Me montrer sous un jour positif pour influencer les autres.

J’ai vu des photos de vous avec George Clooney, Sharon Stone etc… Comment gardez-vous les pieds sur terre?

L’amour des gens, l’humanité, et mon amour pour cette planète. Nous finirons tous enterrés alors la vie est trop courte pour être arrogant. La vie vous donne plus si vous restez connectés aux autres. En tant qu’artistes vos émotions sont exacerbées. Que je sois aujourd’hui dans une hutte de terre en Afrique et demain dans un palace, ce qui est excitant, la vraie expérience de vie se trouve dans les menus détails qui rendent l’ensemble intéressant. Vous ne pouvez répandre l’amour si vous êtes arrogant. Cela va à l’encontre du concept de vivre ensemble.

Pour ce qui est du financement des projets, le gouvernement soutient-il les productions locales ?

Je crois qu’ils sont en train de changer cela en ce moment. J’ai entendu dire qu’investir ici était au programme. Le film que je viens de tourner est une commande de Dubaï Culture, ce qui est super. C’est important car cela va créer toute une économie, soutenir les artistes. Si nous produisons dix films et que l’un d’entre eux est sélectionné pour Cannes ou l’un des festivals de renom, son réalisateur est un ambassadeur du pays. Je me rends dans tous ces festivals, et il n’y a jamais un film de mon pays…

Un film peut raconter l’histoire de façon unique et laisser une emprunte dans un pays de tradition orale ?

Oui, un film est le parfait moyen, Il capte, c’est mobile, il voyage partout dans le monde, ça reste, vous pouvez faire des centaines de copies. La révolution du film a permis aux gens de saisir plus facilement leur propre histoire. Et maintenant c’est encore mieux car si vous ne parvenez pas à vous faire distribuer par les canaux traditionnels, il existe des alternatives on line.

De quoi parle votre prochain film ?

Il fait partie d’une thématique pour Soul of Dubai. Ali Mustafa (réalisateur de City of Life), un autre réalisateur et moi nous racontons tous une histoire autour de Dubaï. La mienne s’appelle « La voisine ». Je l’ai écrit et proposée et nous tournons tous 15 minutes de film. Il s’agit d’une expatriée, nouvelle à Dubaï qui interagit avec sa voisine, une vieille locale. Le dialogue est drôle parce que celle qui parle anglais ne parle pas l’arabe et celle qui parle l’arabe ne parle pas l’anglais. Et le traducteur est un petit garçon et c’est toujours inexact.

Quels réalisateurs admirez-vous ?

J’aime Lars Von Trier. J’aime les films noirs. J’adore Kubrik : c’est mon héro absolu. Pour ce qui est du cinéma plus commercial, j’aime aussi Clint Eastwood. Il sait tout faire : réaliser, produire… Pour les femmes, j’aime beaucoup Mira Neer et Deepa Metha.

Quels défis les femmes doivent-elles encore relever ici ?

L’accès à l’éducation à l’étranger. Rien ne l’interdit dans la loi mais c’est une décision qui se fait au niveau de la famille. En raison de leur sexe, de nombreuses filles n’ont pas le droit aux études internationales. Nous avons des écoles mais ce n’est pas la même chose de partir. Le second défi, ce sont les horaires. Dans mon métier on travaille très tard et beaucoup de famille ne laisse pas leurs filles sortir après 22 heures. Cela peut perturber votre vie professionnelle. Ici les célibataires doivent vivre chez leurs parents même si elles sont vieilles ! Les hommes aussi d’ailleurs. Au moins, c’est égalitaire !

Vous avez attaqué le sujet du flirt chez les adolescentes émiriennes dans votre film Once, pourquoi ?

Le flirt, les rendez-vous galants sont contraires à notre tradition. Lorsque les jeunes filles atteignent un certain âge, elles sont évidemment attirées par l’autre sexe car nous vivons ensemble dans ce pays. Il n’y a plus de ségrégation comme avant et c’est très tentant d’avoir un partenaire. Vous avez des émotions. Vous voyez vos copines expats fréquenter des garçons et vous voulez faire la même chose. Alors vous trouvez d’autres moyens de communiquer avec le sexe opposé: par téléphone. Et cela amène à un rendez-vous. Voilà de quoi parle le film : l’histoire d’une fille qui va à un rendez-vous galant. Pour moi c’est un film d’horreur. Si je devais me rendre à un rendez-vous, je devrais raconter tellement de mensonges que c’est épuisant. Il faut vous couvrir le visage, mentir à vos parents, sauter dans un taxi, aller dans un mall, retrouver un type avec lequel vous avez juste parlé au téléphone, que vous ne connaissez même pas, et ne savez donc pas s’il est fiable. C’est dangereux. Et si quoi que ce soit arrive, vous ne pourrez pas en parler e à vos parents. C’est très dangereux. Ce film dit « Attention ». Je refuse de flirter en secret. Je flirte ouvertement alors ça va.

Comment le public a-t-il réagi ?

Comme la fin est ouverte, les gens pouvaient envisager les choses de deux façons différentes. La première a été : « Super, voua allez décourager les filles de le faire ». L’autre a été « C’est un encouragement ». A mon avis, ce n’est ni l’un, ni l’autre. Je n’ai fait que décrire une réalité. Je voulais documenter ce qui se passe. Il y avait un risque que ce soit très dangereux pour cette fille pour plusieurs raisons : si elle se fait attraper par sa famille, si le copain se révèle être quelqu’un de malhonnête et la moleste… Il y a beaucoup de dangers autour de cela.


Nayla is the founder and Director of D-SEVEN Motion Pictures and UAE's first female film Producer/Director. Her aim is to produce a slate of feature films in the Middle East.

Nayla has produced and directed four films namely: Unveiling Dubai (2004), Arabana (2006), Once (2009) and Malal (2010).

Her accolades include: ‘Best Emirati Filmmaker’ at the Dubai International Film Festival in 2007, ‘Emirates Woman of the Year’ in 2005, and ‘The Youngest Entrepreneur’ of the year in 2005 at the Global Businesswomen & Leader’s Summit Awards. She has served as an official juror in the feature film program headed by Abbas Kiarostami at the Middle East Film Festival in 2009 and was a jury member at the 2010 International Emmy Awards. Moreover, Nayla is currently a proud ambassador of CANON Middle East, a global leader in digital imaging products. She was announced among the top 50 most powerful personalities in Arab cinema (source: Variety Arabia, 13 Dec 2011)

« Servir d’exemple est très important pour moi»

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« Being a role model is very important to me »

Publié le par Kyradubai

« Being a role model is very important to me »

UAE film director and producer of her own company D-Seven, Nayla Al Khaja talks about her last film for Soul of Dubai and the ups and downs of her daring career in the local film industry. She says if there isn’t complete freedom yet, it is already the most progressive one of the Middle East. INTERVIEW.

Is it because of the lack of producers here that you needed to start your own production company ?

Yes. I love business and the creative world as well, so I like to combine both. It just came as a very natural thing to me to start my own company. I used to freelance under a proper licence from the Economic Department in Dubai at 21. I have always had that entrepreneur side and have always been raising money for artistic initiatives. So I knew I had a nack for closing deals, negociations etc.

You started in radio ?

My first job was a Radio Jockey. I also worked in the marketing department so I was able to get two sponsors for my show. Then, the marketing department wanted me! But I liked the entertainment si I did both. I did that for one year because I had to travel to Toronto. I had to repeat university from scratch because I never had the opportunity to study overseas because of my gender. I studied here initiatially.

Because of your gender ? Can you explain ?

Because my parents were against me travelling on my own without my husband or an uncle… I studied at Women’s College because it was either that or home. After that, I had a gap here before going to Toronto. And they were still not happy that I travelled, so I got married.

So you got married to study abroad?

Correct. After six days of dropping me, my « husband » and I had a little bit of arguing over his role, providing me with an education.

So you divorced basically ?

Yes. We are still good friends.

What is the relationship with your parents since you started your career on an argument ?

I was the first woman in the field back then. It’s almost like the first woman driving a car in the 60’s : everybody would look at you. So in my field, my parents did not know what to make of it. They were worried : filmmaking can be dark, an underground side, lots of parties. They thought I was going on the dark side…

You were under the spotlights as well ?

Exactly. It means I am exposed all the times. If I do something naughty, I’ll be exposed. Here it is very tribal so it’s always about family reputation. So they have a lot of fears.

You also deal with controversial subjects in your films ?

My first film was just a documentary called Unveiling Dubai. Not controversial, just a student film. I wanted to show Dubai through the eyes of another film maker and myself. So it was ok. The government liked it and it opened a lot of doors for me for what I really wanted to do. My second project, Arabana, was about pedophilia, child abuse. So I shot that and it was my first narrative film on 35 mm. A really nice experience. And to work with actors…

Why did you want to tackle such a taboo issue ?

Because it was based on my own story. When I was very young I was in a situation where I was not abused but I came very close to it and I remember the feeling of it, the fear. I wanted to capture that emotion. After I did the film, we showed it in many organisations especially women’s and they started talking about their own personal experiences as kids. Some started crying because they had never opened up before. So I think films can do that sometimes.

It gets a lot of courage to tell such an intimate story publicly ?

It really helped. Making the film made me feel better. I overcome my fear from when I was 7. Some women talked about their problems. That was nice. The film was amazing. Not the film itself but what it did : money was raised for the actress’ education. She could not afford it. I am a big actor in women’s education. I really believe in it, big time. Because I was also denied it. People should not be doing that. People should not be pushed in a situation where they have to marry someone to get education. It’s wrong.

Is pedophilia and child abuse a common thing here ?

No it is a global issue. I made research and I found out that the architecture of a house is an important factor. If a house is big, even if you are good at monitoring your kids, if people work around, the chances can be very high. In this film that’s what happened. The girl lives in a huge villa where the backyard is massive. It makes it difficult for the parents to see what’s happening.

You dealt with censorship ? How does it work here ?

You need to give your scripts to the Media Council. From ten years to today things have really improved in terms of approval. It is more flexible, less strict. I would not have been able to shoot things that I show now. That’s a progress which is directly linked to lots of film festivals being shown in the Middle East. A lot of these film festivals are not censored so that has helped film awareness in the country and respecting the artist’s voice. Yes we don’t have a complete freedom but for the Middle East I think we are the most progressive.

What was the reaction of the public and the people around you to the film?

I received some very negative comments but it’s okay because people have different opinions. Some from my own community saying that I should get out forever. Because as a filmmaker, I should not be doing this. But this is only 10, even less, 5% of the people. The big majority, especially men, which is surprising, are very supportive. Most supports come from guies. My fellow film makers are men. And my number one support is my brother. He really pushes me like crazy.

What is your family background ?

Both my parents are entrepreneurs. My mom ran a school but she sold it and is now in property business. My father won best company of the year in the media field. He is an agent for hospital beds.

You received an waward for best entrepreneur as well. Do you walk in the footprints of your father ?

I received awards, my company received awards, which is nice because it’s always team work in film. So I take pride in having a really good team.

Do you write the scenarios ?

The shorts yes, but in documentary treatment and features I take a writer.

Do you have the ambition of educating people, raising awareness on certain subjects ?

It is extremely key. I have an agenda this year where I am going to visit schools. I was at three different schools last month and taught children how to find their voice through film or any art medium, music, dance, painting. Just to give them self confidence during training and workshops. It is part of my giving back to communities. For me the award is good but the best thing ever is when I get an email from a 16 year old girl telling me she wants to follow my steps, using me as an example for her family. Voilà, I did my job. It is going back to the next generation. Being a role model is very important for me. Show myself in a good light because I want people to be influenced.

I saw pictures of you with George Clooney, Sharon Stone etc… How do stay down to earth ?

It’s the love for people, humanity and love for the earth. At the end of the day, we will all be buried underground and life is too short to be arrogant. You get more out of life when you’re connected to people. And as an artist your emotions are hightened to the delicate fabrics of life. Am I under a mud hut in Africa today, or in a palace tomorrow, it is very exciting and you get to really experience life because you appreciate the small details which create the big picture. You cannot spread love if you’re arrogant. It goes against the whole concept of togetherness.

Regarding fundings, does the government help local productions ?

I think that they are changing that now. I heard that the agenda is to put the money here. The film I am shooting in two weeks is commissioned by Dubai Culture which is great. It is important because it will create an economy, support for the artists. If we make ten films and one gets into Cannes or one of the big festivals, these film makers are ambassadors for the country. I go to all of these film festivals and there is never a film from my country.

Films can tell the story of the country in a unique way, leaving a print in a very oral tradition ?

Yes, the film is the best medium. You capture, it’s mobile, it travels the world, it stays, you can make hundreds of copies. The revolution of film has made it easier for the people to grasp their own stories. And now it’s even better because if you don’t get distributed through the traditional channels, there are on line alternatives.

What is your current project about ?

It’s part of a theme called Soul of Dubai. Ali Mustafa (City of Life), another director and I, each of us have a different story. Mine is called the Neighbour. I wrote it and proposed it. We all shot a 15 minutes film. Mine is about a new expat girl in Dubai who interacts with her local neighbour who is an old woman. The dialogue is funny because the woman who speaks english cannot speak arabic and the woman who speaks arabic cannot speak english and the only one who translates is a child and it’s always wrong.

Who do look up to as far as directing goes ?

I like Lars Von Trier. I like dark films. I love Kubrik : he’s my number one heroe. From the more commercial cinema, I also like Clint Eastwood. He’s a one man package : directs, produces. As women I really like Mira Neer and Deepa Metha.

What challenges women still have to fight here ?

Access to education overseas. There is nothing against it in the law but it’s a family to family decision. Because of their gender, a lot of girls are deprived from an international education. We do have schools but it’s a different world to do it elsewhere. The second one would be timings. In my field you work very late and lots of families dont’ let girls go out later than 10pm. It can disrupt your life style of working. Single women here still live with their parents even if they are old ! Even guies actually which is good. At least, it’s equal !

Tell us about Once, your film tackling the issue of Emirati women dating in secret ?

Dating is against the concept of our tradition. When women reach a certain age, they are obviously attracted to the other sex because there is a lot of coexistence of gender on the country. It is not segregated anymore, so it’s very tempting to have a partner. You have emotions. You see your expat girlfriends doing it and you want to do the same. So what’s happening is that you find other ways of communicating with the other gender : through the telephone. And it leads to a date. So that’s the film : the journey of a gilr going on a date. For me it’s like a horror movie. Because if I had to go on a date, I would have to do so much lying that’s it‘s exhausting. You have to cover your face, lie to your parents, get in a taxi, get in a mall, get picked by a guy, and you just spoke on the phone so you don’t even know if he’s going to be reliable. It’s dangerous and if something happens, you cannot tell your parents. IIt is very dangerous. So the films says « Be careful ». I refuse to date secretely. I date publicly so it’s fine.

What were the reactions to the movie ?

Because it has an open ending, people took two different perspectives. One was « Great you will scare girls from doing it ». The other was « You are encouraging them ». For me it wasn’t either or, it was just depicting what it is like. I wanted to document what happens. There’s a chance that it could have been very dangerous for the girl and for different reasons : if she gets caught by the family, if the boyfriends turns out to be a really horrible person and molests her… So there are a lot of dangers to it.


Nayla is the founder and Director of D-SEVEN Motion Pictures and UAE's first female film Producer/Director. Her aim is to produce a slate of feature films in the Middle East.

Nayla has produced and directed four films namely: Unveiling Dubai (2004), Arabana (2006), Once (2009) and Malal (2010).

Her accolades include: ‘Best Emirati Filmmaker’ at the Dubai International Film Festival in 2007, ‘Emirates Woman of the Year’ in 2005, and ‘The Youngest Entrepreneur’ of the year in 2005 at the Global Businesswomen & Leader’s Summit Awards. She has served as an official juror in the feature film program headed by Abbas Kiarostami at the Middle East Film Festival in 2009 and was a jury member at the 2010 International Emmy Awards. Moreover, Nayla is currently a proud ambassador of CANON Middle East, a global leader in digital imaging products. She was announced among the top 50 most powerful personalities in Arab cinema (source: Variety Arabia, 13 Dec 2011)

« Being a role model is very important to me »
« Being a role model is very important to me »

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