6 Women Who Shape the World

Meet six UAE heroes who are changing lives - it's time to be inspired
 Hala Kazim
Hala Kazim
Cecile Guillemot
Cecile Guillemot
Nadine du Toit
Nadine du Toit
Arpana Shetty
Arpana Shetty
 Mina Liccione
Mina Liccione
Tamin-Lee Connolly
Tamin-Lee Connolly

Hala Kazim - Crossing Borders And Breaking Barriers

Hala Kazim had worked as an artist for 20 years with successful exhibitions in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and even Harrods after meeting Mohamad Al Fayad. But something was missing. Realising her passion lay in helping others, Hala set up Journey Through Change, a women’s group that offers fitness, travel, cooking lessons and a book club, in 2010.

“I formed Journey Through Change according to things that I love. Firstly I wanted to bring reading to the community. In the UAE we don’t read much, even though the first word of our Prophet (PBUH) was ‘read.’

“At the moment my Book Club is reading Half The Sky which includes statistics on sex trafficking throughout the world. The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, about how neglecting your children will affect them as adults, is one the best books ever. I only read two kinds of books, nonfiction and self-help, because I want to upgrade myself and others. I want people to relate to other cultures and to understand what’s happening in Palestine, Iran and America. I realise that we are living in a bubble – it’s a beautiful one and we are very lucky – but I want to raise awareness that there are others who live very differently.”

Then on top of the book club, fitness classes and cooking classes is her ground-breaking Adventure Club.

“There’s the stereotype of Emirati women going shopping or sitting in a coffee shop so I wanted to come up with something that has more of a purpose. I love travelling and want to share with other women that there are so many beautiful things out there. What you don’t know you don’t want to try. But I often go hiking by myself to places like Spain and Austria without a guide. When I took a group of ladies away with me it was the first time for all of them to leave the UAE. They absolutely loved it. It was fantastic for them to experience something totally different – to stand in the middle of the forest or on top of a mountain and see the beauty. They carried their own luggage; they sat and spoke to the locals, ate their food and got to know about their culture.” The interesting part, says Hala, is that it wasn’t difficult obtaining permission from their fathers or husbands.

“As a rule I need their approval because I have to cover my back – I’m already liberated but I don’t want to be seen to be pulling other women away. I need the families to know that their daughters or wives are safe and that we don’t do anything except walk, experience the countryside and come back. It’s not like we do anything against our culture.”

What She Wants You To Know
“We are a spoilt nation, but you can’t blame us, we have amazing leaders. Get to know something you didn’t know before. Connect with other cultures.”

Her Stay Healthy Secret
“There is something magical about walking, especially when you are heading to a specific destination – there’s such a sense of achievement.”

Find Hala on halakazim.com.

Cecile Guillemot - Riding For Awareness

Combining her passion for horse riding with a cause close to her heart was the impetus for Cecile Guillemot’s pioneering programme. The Pink Caravan is a pan-UAE breast cancer awareness campaign that was launched in Sharjah on 2 February under the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qassimi, wife of the ruler of Sharjah, along with her husband HH Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi.

“Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qassimi is the honorary president of the Friends of Cancer Patients Society and that’s why she wanted to take on Pink Caravan when I presented the idea to her. With the help of some fantastic committee members we managed to engage this campaign which has been over a year in the making.”

Cecile was fortunate to garner strong support for this worthy cause with HH Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi donating seven of his own horses to be auctioned off raising Dhs1.5 million on launch night.

“Part of the Kashf initiative for early detectable cancers, our main objective was to launch the first cancer registry where all hospitals are linked into one system. At the moment this doesn’t exist in the UAE. The second is to raise awareness of breast cancer, especially in the remote areas of the UAE, which is why the Pink Caravan route took a specific course through each emirate focusing on remote, rural villages and wadi townships.”

The caravan was followed by an awareness team carrying state of the art mammogram machines to conduct screenings at clinics and women’s associations, and to teach women how to do self-examinations.

“The idea of this is to engage not just one emirate or community group but to really spread out.”

The Pink Caravan is working in conjunction with Friends of Cancer Patients Society, a charitable and volunteer foundation which finances treatments for everyone in the UAE who can’t afford it. Their aid ranges from getting patients back to their home country, to chemo or radiation and bone marrow therapy.

“The horse riding helps to create the buzz and to make people take notice. It’s a three-year campaign that’s not just focused on during one month. We’re planning activities throughout the year.” Pink Caravan’s vision is to become a vehicle for change by engaging all breast cancer related NGO’s to join together and unify UAE awareness efforts.

“We then hope to engage other GCC countries to start moving this concept forward. Breast cancer is one of the early detectable cancers so we aim to roll out similar campaigns with other early detectable ones like testicular cancer.”

What She Wants You To Know
“Breast cancer can be cured 90 per cent of the time when it’s detected early. Be aware of your body.”

Her Stay Healthy Secret
“I’ve always been healthy and play a lot of team sports and I ride.”

Nadine du Toit - Shedding Light and Kilos

Nadine du Toit is convinced that with the right mindset, healthier habits and generosity of spirit, “we can make a difference in the lives of others!” Nadine founded GloryGirl as a division of the Meta Leaders in November 2010 in order to help transform women’s lives through life coaching, personal training and nutritional advice with the main focus on developing human potential.

An ex-airhostess who fell into that seductive trap of enjoying the jet-setter lifestyle a little too much, Nadine soon found herself outgrowing her clothes – and her self-esteem.

“I was totally enthralled by the posh night life, the lazy days off spent in beautiful locations and the free delivery of everything food wise! Using the excuses of jetlag and ‘I’ll start training next week’, I yo-yoed between eating pints of ice cream every night to nothing at all, not knowing that I was destroying my metabolism in the process. This went on for two years.”

Something snapped and she consciously decided to renew her mind and get into action. “I realised that I was not half the person I could be. I was tired of living a life of regret and wishing for dreams to come true.” Today, the stunning athlete couldn’t be more different. “Through a personal struggle with weight issues, emotional eating and a negative mindset, I discovered that I was not alone in this waste land of emotional turmoil. On a journey filled with breakthroughs I equipped myself with internationally accredited qualifications positioning myself to address this ever increasing need.”

The hard work and dedication paid off and today Nadine holds the title of Miss Fame South Africa 2010 as well as winning second prize at the Las Vegas Fame World Championships 2010. More importantly, she’s helping other women by using methodology that focuses on changing mind sets, which she believes is the block preventing us from reaching our potential.

“Through GloryGirl’s philosophy of ‘everybody needs a somebody,’ making use of a support structure and accountability, we work towards the ultimate goal of a professional photo shoot – with before and after photos – which celebrate the success of this journey.” It clearly works: 30 women aged between 13 and 55 are currently signed up to GloryGirl and there’s a four week waiting list. She recently took three GloryGirls to Miami to compete in the Fitness Universe Pageant.

“At the pageant we helped to raise awareness of health and fitness in the UAE – and to change inaccurate perceptions about our beautiful city.” Results vary from person to person and GloryGirl may not be for everyone, but they do boast an 85 per cent success rate. Aside from the physical rewards Nadine also finds the transformations emotionally satisfying for both her and her clients. Nothing makes her happier than when, at the end of a successfully completed programme, a client turns to her and exclaims, “I can’t believe that’s me in the picture!”

What She Wants You To Know
“Change your thoughts to change your life.”

Her Stay Healthy Secret
“Healthy fats like coconut oil and flax seed oil are good for your skin, hair, nails and those girlie emotional days.” Email nadine@glorygirlfitness.com.

Arpana Shetty - Putting Others First

Former Marriage and Family Therapist Arpana Shetty works for Gulf for Good as a Charity Administrator and has her sights set on establishing her own Non-Profit one day. Arpana and her husband both turn 30 this year but instead of throwing a huge birthday bash, they signed up for the Gulf for Good Borneo Challenge, asking friends and family to support their fund raising.

“I’d been looking for the opportunity to work with a Non-Profit ever since I moved to Dubai four years ago.

“My motivation comes from a friend who ate from garbage bins as a child. He got the right support at the right time and today he is a well to do doctor giving back to society.

“We always talk about making a difference in the world, but rarely do we get off our backsides to do something about it. G4G gave me the chance to put these words into action. Ever since I have started working with G4G, I have become so much more aware. I have started sponsoring medications for a sick needy child, and I contribute towards a school being built for poor children in a village in India.” And where possible Arpana likes to take a hands on approach and meet the people they are helping face to face. “Visiting the refugee camps in Lebanon last year was one of the most moving experiences I have had in a long time. Some of the children have multiple life threatening diagnoses and yet they continue to fight with smiles on their faces. It makes you admire their strength and puts your life into perspective.”

What She Wants You To Know
“Always look for the silver lining. As someone once said, ‘Have a good day…or not…the choice is yours!’”

Her Stay Healthy Secret
“Eat well and play hard. I work out twice a week with Crossfit Lifespark (lifesparkcoaching. com), go kayaking on a Friday morning or join in a G4G training session.”

Mina Liccione - Using Laughter to Heal and Hearten

Mina Liccione is an award-winning stand up, actor, choreographer, director and the dynamic personality behind Clowns that Care. The native New Yorker began performing aged three and teaching in her early teens. “I was a Broadway baby; it was part of this New York culture – the kids danced, sang and acted; that’s how I was raised!”

A true hybrid artist whose two passions are rhythm and comedy, the selfless performer is intent on educating and giving as much back to the community as possible. “It’s about educating, not just performing and leaving,” says Mina who pioneered the first and only comedy school in the MENA region which quickly grew into Dubomedy Arts School.

“The whole point of Dubomedy was about getting to grassroots and forming a local arts community. When I first moved here there really wasn’t anything. All the comediennes were being flown in. There was a stigma against comedy in that it involved swearing and talking about sex, drugs and religion – you don’t need to do any of these things and you can still be extremely funny. I started leading some workshops with kids, then body percussion and tap dance followed by comedy classes which were a real hit with many different cultures.”

Improvisation training, says Mina, is a life skill. “A lot of people come to these classes to build their confidence. I’ve learnt the people that are the shyest in the beginning are the funniest at the end because they have all this stuff happening inside – they just don’t know how to release it.”

Even more heart-warming is the work Mina has instigated in Dubai for kids with special needs. Using her experience garnered from training programmes in San Francisco and New York such as the Clown Care Unit of the Big Apple Circus, Mina and her team now work with organisations like Senses Dubai and Dubai Autism Centre and are putting on a big stand up comedy show for the Arthritis Foundation to raise money for those who can’t afford their medication.

“Laughter is a fantastic healing tool for kids. It’s so clichéd to say laughter is the best medicine but it’s proven that it works. It’s a cliché because it’s true. Being a Clown that Cares is an overwhelming but humbling experience and these kids really need it. The goal is for them to hopefully remember the clowns more than they remember the pain.

“Afterwards we all interact. We teach the kids dances, songs and circus skills and get them to tell us a story; that’s what really gets them inspired.”

What She Wants You To Know 
“You don’t have to be rich to help. Just donate your time and your energy.”

Her Stay Healthy Secret
“It’s so easy to get into a funk in Dubai because it can stress you out. My solution is to take a walk on the beach to make me feel good.”

Tamin-Lee Connolly - Going The Distance

It’s a feat so daunting just thinking about it sends shivers of trepidation down most people’s spines. But Tamin-Lee is not most people. The gutsy South African is overlanding 50,000km in one year ensuring 5,000 laptops are distributed to 39 countries in a project that’s been three and a half years in the making. And she’ll be sleeping in a tent on the roof of her Landrover for most of it.

So what made her want to pack up her comfortable life in Dubai? “I’ve done charity work most of my life. Having worked as a teacher for 10 years I’ve always focused on something during my summer holidays. I was so sick of paying an organisation to go somewhere to re-paint the same wall that’s been painted over and over again that I thought I’ve got to be able to do more. Researching how I could help though education, I found the Miamibased One Laptop per Child (OLPC) programme which I thought was amazing. Since it started in 1997 over 400,000 laptops have been distributed worldwide,” explains Tamin.

“I’m the finance behind 5,000 laptops. We’ll be visiting all the schools that have been given the laptops, teaching them some skills, giving them resources as well as doing some teacher training and basic education. These laptops will allow the students to expand their educational prospects without having to leave their village, lifestyle or family. This is something which the community often finds very damaging in this rapidly changing and globalised world.”

Tamin has approached companies in the Middle East about this and she’s managed to get 220 onboard. And while she has made her laptop goal, she is still looking for donations for emergency funds. “I’m almost there but will be very grateful for all the help I can get.”

What She Wants You To Know
“Don’t ever give up.”

Her Stay Healthy Secret
“Surround yourself with friends who’ll pull you up when you fall.” Visit everythingexceptthehorn.com.