As your community magazine, at Abu Dhabi World we’re always keen to share inspiring stories about people who are out to make a change, inspire others and do good.
Here are just a few that we think deserve a mention for their contributions.
The eco advocate
For marine biologist Arabella Willing, work doesn’t stop when she leaves the office. As the head of conservation at the Park Hyatt on Saadiyat Island, part of Arabella’s job is protecting the natural habitat from harm, including the nesting turtle population on the island’s beaches while educating tourists and residents on marine conservation.
“Things are changing here,” Arabella notes. “You have to try and strike that balance between conservation and tourism development, and that’s really poignant in a place like Saadiyat Island.
“You have this beautiful natural beach where the turtles nest, but equally you want to allow people to appreciate that. That’s the core of my job.”
When she’s not patrolling the island’s shores and managing internal hotel efforts, Arabella also heads two public outreach programmes.
For the adults, she’s the chair of the Abu Dhabi chapter of non-profit organisation Emirates Natural History Group, but for little ones, she heads into local schools in hope of inspiring tomorrow’s eco warriors.
“Education needs to start with the kids,” she observes. “We talk to them about sustainable seafood and plastic, about habitat loss and how important the mangrove trees are.”
“I want them to take away that their actions on a daily basis have an impact. Even if they
tell their mum not to use a plastic bag, in a small but significant way it’s helping all
“Everything they do is important and they are connected,” she says. “It’s not hopeless; we’ve still got a lot left to fight for.”
The teens with a cause
Sometimes the best things bloom from something personal, and that’s certainly the case with Circle of Life, headed by students at the American Community School.
Founded in 2011 by a then-13 year old Nadeen Issa whose friend was diagnosed with leukaemia, the initiative battles to raise awareness of the critical shortage of bone marrow donations, and how people here can help alleviate to a global problem.
“There are so few donors here, so we want to see if we can find some in our community,” explains grade 12 student Gabi Lopez who has taken up the charge alongside some of her fellow students.
“We need participation – globally and locally – to create this database where people can access donors from all over the world.”
From awareness walks to drives, the teens work to spread the message that viable donors are needed, while challenging misconceptions about what registering as a potential donor might mean.
“All we ask is if people will be prepared to swab the inside of their cheek and provide a sample,” Gabi says. “That information goes to a worldwide database. It’s non-binding, but it could save a life.”
But going global means local change first. For that, the group wants to expand its reach to the larger community – and they’re appealing to local schools to help.
“We want to make people aware of just how easily they can change someone’s life,” says grade 12 student Giulia De Benedictis, a co-leader of the initiative.
“Most of the time we think that we’re just one person and we can’t make a difference,” Giulia reflects.
“But this is the one place where you and your DNA can. It might not be something we can see, but this has the potential to save so many lives.”
To find out more, search for Circle of Life on Facebook.
The cultural curator
When Dorian Rogers arrived in Abu Dhabi in 2011, he saw a gap in cultural events.
In response, he set up the Rooftop Rhythms open mic poetry night in March 2012, and nearly 100 people turned out to show their support.
“It was obvious that this type of entertainment and culture could catch on,” he says.
After establishing Abu Dhabi Soul, 50 Shades of Blues and Versus, Dorian has seen the growth of the cultural scene in the capital and the development of a diverse community.
“Culture and arts, mainly poetry, changed my life and gave me a sense of purpose and identity,” he says.
“It’s definitely my intention to inspire that same feeling in performers, attendees and other organisers.”
“I’ve been told by a few different organisers that Rooftop Rhythms was integral in inspiring them to plan their own events. Culture and arts has that power.
“Because of this feedback over the years, I definitely consider myself an advocate and maybe even an ambassador for culture in Abu Dhabi. This country has done so much for me over the years, so it is great to be able to give back in my own way.”
Ever humble, Dorian is quick to point out what other venues are doing to help grow the scene as well, including The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi – “[It] has added a sense of consistency and quality to our community with its seasonal programming,” – and Warehouse 421, which Dorian says provides a much-needed cultural space for high quality events.
“Soon, there will be the Louvre, Guggenheim, and Zayed National museums, and even the World Expo in 2020,” he notes.
“While we have not reached our peak, there is definitely a lot to be excited about.”
The ability champion
“I believe that things are sent to you from a higher place, and then you know where you’re supposed to be going. That is what happened with Dhabian Equestrian Club,” says founder Tina Al Qubaisi.
When her son was diagnosed with neurological problems, ADHD and severe dyslexia, Tina faced with an uncertain future, but found a new purpose through equestrianism.
“I started Dhabian literally for his future,” she tells us of her son Khaled. “I wanted to get back into riding and I rescued a horse, but when I saw the affinity between him and the horse, it was something unreal.”
Inspired by the positive change in her son, Tina set up her stables and began to work with special needs children, offering therapeutic riding lessons and campaigning for awareness on invisible illness through philanthropic venture Hoofbeatz and Heartbeatz.
“It’s a slow process, but it’s a rewarding one,” Tina smiles.
“One of our riders is Saud [pictured, above], who is autistic and has anxiety and sensory disorders. When he first started coming three years ago, it was very daunting for him, but now he wants to learn to jump in time for the Special Olympics.”
“I learned through my own son that when most people talk about children with special needs, they talk about their disability, not their abilities,” Tina comments.
“We need to learn to stop looking at that,” she emphasises. “We need awareness – that’s what we’re trying to do. We don’t talk enough about the ‘little’ things like autism, Downs syndrome or sensory disorders. That needs to change.”
To find out more about Dhabian Equestrian Club, visit: dhabianequi.com
WORDS Rachael Perrett and Camille Hogg