UAE Real Life: Making a Difference by Giving Back to the Community
Tell us about your background.
I was born in Tehran and moved to the UK at an early age. I trained as a chartered accountant with PricewaterhouseCoopers. It was a great experience that proved to be a solid foundation for my career. An opportunity then arose to move into the philanthropic field and I went for it. My first experience was as Ambassador to Pratham, India’s largest Educational NGO before joining The London Elephant Parade.
The Parade was an innovative way to raise awareness and money for a great cause to save them from extinction. We organized for leading fashion designers and artists to paint elephant sculptures, which were dotted around London and auctioned over the summer which raised millions.
In 2010, I took on my next challenge and moved to Dubai to lead the development of START across the Middle East.
How was START developed?
It was founded in 2007 by Art Dubai and the Al Madad Foundation. We work with many international artists to organise art workshops to heal and educate refugee, orphan and special needs children in the Middle East and India. As well as our workshops, we organise educational scholarships for children. START holds a yearly Gala, which is our main source of fundraising. in 2013 we raised $1.1 million.
Our workshops give children a chance to play, explore and express themselves which we believe brings them greater happiness and peace. As Pablo Picasso said “Art washes away from the soul the dirt of every day life”.
What does it mean to you to give back so generously to others?
The START team is like a family and we are driven by the same goal; to make the children smile. That is the reason why we are here.
Do you have any plans to develop it?
In time, START will commence programs in Pakistan and other countries in the Middle East. We also feel for the children and families of Syria and would like to help raise funds and awareness of their plight.
SAHAR WAHBEH, Founder DUMYE
Tell me a little bit about your background...
I am 32, born and raised in Northern Virginia by a Lebanese father and a Palestinian mother. I have been a designer for more than a decade, from NYC to Dubai. The first four years of my career were in NYC working on some of the biggest brands in the world. Then I met a dashing young man who was visiting the Big Apple on business from Dubai and the next thing I knew I was married and moving to the Middle East. I spent a couple of years working in creative agencies here in Dubai. The past four years I worked as a branding consultant and once my daughter came along I juggled both. I have now set branding aside to dedicate my career to Dumyé.
Tell us a little bit about your company...
The concept behind Dumyé is simple really. You select a doll online to buy that tugs the hardest at your heart, personalise her look and give her a greater purpose by placing a special message in her Purpose Pocket. In turn we gift a doll to one of the world’s 17.9 million orphaned children. By working together we bring love and light into the lives of not only our children but also those children who have not been spoken for. Although Dumyé is a for profit company it has a very giving heart. The dolls we gift to underprivileged children will be personalised by the children through an art workshop. This process of doll creation gives them a chance to reflect upon themselves, process what they have been through and control at least one piece of their world. So a special child in our client’s life receives a truly meaningful gift to laugh, play and dream with, but an orphan does as well
How did you develop the idea?
I wanted to gift my daughter her first doll. You know that one toy that would be iconic of her childhood. But I couldn’t find anything that really captured my heart and her spirit. So after a trip to NYC’s garment district I dusted off my mother’s vintage sewing machine and got to it. From there I started making dolls for my niece and nephew, then my cousin’s kids.
After some time I figured I probably wasn’t the only mother who wanted a bit more creative license in personalising a meaningful gift for their little one – however that insight alone was not enough to persuade me to shift gears.
That didn’t happen until I realised Dumyé was an opportunity to not only share with my daughter what I valued but to actually live by it. My advice is to marry your passions with your life’s work, find the courage to fulfill your potential, respect Mother Nature, show compassion for your fellow man and understand that the real gift in life is in the giving.
What does it mean to you to give back to others?
It means everything to me. Through Dumyé’s giving program we can touch the lives of children in the language they understand best, the language of play and make believe.
HERMOINE MACURA, TV Anchor and Founder Straight Street Media
How did you come to live in the Middle East?
I was born in Sydney, Australia and had studied journalism and photography. I arrived in the UAE during the time of the late Shekih Zayed’s rule as the first Australian female English speaking TV News Anchor in the Middle East.
Tell us about your charity...
FACES of the MIDDLE EAST and the VOW project aim to document the rich diversity found in the Arab world while also highlighting the humanitarian crisis and the need for action. We host international photographic exhibitions and shows that aim to raise awareness, spark action and raise funds for charities, organisations and specific cases of women and children in need in the Arab world. We exhibit in all the major cities including Sydney, London and Washington DC and of course across the UAE – which is my home. All the funds from our VOW project were recently used to help refugees in Lebanon including many abused women and children.
How did you develop the idea?
I’ve always donated funds to various organisations, however it was coming face to face with victims and reporting on subjects which deeply impacted me as a human being and as a woman.
What does it mean for you to give back to others?
Loving and helping others in need has always been a natural response to me thanks to my mother. When I was a child we would often distribute groceries and food to homeless people as we walked home from the shops. I believe loving and caring for people that are in need is part of being human. When I arrived in the UAE I continued to serve amongst the local people as well as work in an orphanage that was set up in Al Wasl Hospital which cared for abandoned children. I never really did the expat brunches but rather would spend my Friday’s reading the papers or books to people who were in the emergency ward.
How have you seen it change lives?
While money does make a difference. The real change comes with life on life. The real transformations I’ve seen have been when I have chosen to get my hands dirty. I get in there and get involved. Whether it be teaching English to street children in a slum in Lebanon and Iraq or cradling an addict and helping them through their tough rehabilitation as they choose to start clean.
Do you have plans to expand the charity?
I am working on developing a shelter in Northern Iraq called the House of Hope to take in orphans and also survivors of human trafficking. It aims to educate and empower them so that they can become independent within their own communities. I am also looking to establish a medical facility at the centre where doctors perform specialised operations for those in poverty.