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15 Friday heroes making a huge difference

They've built schools, saved lives, collected junk, crushed cans or carried out fund-raising activities including walkathons and climbing mountains to selflessly help millions of strangers. Friday salutes them!

Friday magazine
00:00 May 11, 2012

1. A glimmer of hope

Published: September 12, 2008

It was around 15 years ago, while completing her clinical training at the Civil Hospital, Karachi, Pakistan, that Dr Mubina Agboatwalla saw a cruel, unforgiving side to life. Realising that a lot of people were dying due to illnesses, most of which were caused by lack of knowledge of hygiene, Dr Mubina decided to find a solution to prevent the occurrence of such maladies. The result was Health Orientated Preventative Education - Hope - a charity based in Pakistan.

Hope set up two formal schools, both in remote areas of the Sind province in Pakistan. Over a thousand children benefited from these establishments, while informal home schools in the interior of the province also mushroomed.

The Friday effect: "The feature was published at a time when Hope was little known outside of Pakistan," says Dr Mubina. "Thanks to Friday, people, not only in the UAE, but also in the US and elsewhere, learnt about Hope and contributed towards our cause and now a network of dedicated members thrives in both countries."

From two hospitals in rural areas of Pakistan, Hope now has four, while informal schools have grown to 200. 

2. The Bird Whisperer

Published: October 15, 2010

Suzie Gilbert is a rehabilitator of wild birds and author of several books on the subject, who lives in Hudson Valley, New York. She began by taking care of abused and unwanted parrots at her home, and volunteering at a local raptor rehabilitation centre. From there it was a short flight to her ultimate commitment: Flyaway, Inc., the non-profit wild bird rehabilitation centre she operates out of her home. Once the birds get better, she releases them into the wild.

The Friday effect: "A few days after publication, I received an email from Dr Margit Muller, the Director of the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital," says Suzie. "Dr Muller said she had read the article, and offered her expertise in case I was to receive a raptor with an unfamiliar injury or sickness.

"To be able to consult with an expert like Dr Muller is like gold! I love that your magazine article has connected raptor lovers on opposite sides of the world." 

3. Change in Sight

Published: January 7, 2011

George Abraham lost his eyesight almost completely when he was ten months old following an illness but that did not stop him from making it his mission to help the blind live with dignity. Determined to prove to the world that the blind can do almost everything those with sight can, he set up the Score Foundation, which launched Project Eyeway as a one-stop knowledge resource for people living with blindness and limited vision. George also organised the first blind cricket tournament in 1990 in New Delhi and was instrumental in organising the first Blind Cricket World Cup in November 1998 in India.

The Friday effect: Since the story appeared, George has become a member of the steering committee of the 12th five-year-plan of the Government of India on socially vulnerable groups. "Disabled people must be viewed as a resource for the economy and must be invested in," he says, happy that the feature elicited a lot of response. He is now planning a speaking tour of the UAE in the first half of November this year to raise awareness of the needs of blind people.

4. We need your junk

Published: March 2, 2012

Faisal Khan, a Canadian of Indian origin, and a social entrepreneur, founded Take My Junk UAE (takemyjunkuae.com), an organisation that collects unwanted items such as furniture, clothes, and books from homes, hospitals, malls, schools, universities, offices and companies in the UAE and sells it at highly reduced prices to the needy.

The Friday effect: "The response to the story was unbelievable,'' says Faisal. "People from all over the UAE called us and enquired about us - and are still doing so. We got calls to pick up stuff for weeks after the article, and the word-of-mouth recommendations generated by those new customers has resulted in still more people getting in touch.

"A lot of our business is generated by word-of-mouth, and the publicity we got from the article has only increased these numbers of recommendations. It showed me how much people really care for others in the UAE.'' 

5. A step in the right direction

Published: March 25, 2011

Following the death of his sister Suraya in a road accident in March 2009, just four months short of her 24th birthday, Mohammad Shahnawaz, a Canadian-Bangladesh expatriate, decided to channel his personal grief and increase public awareness of road safety in the UAE. With a group of like-minded people, Mohammad started the Suraya Foundation in memory of his sister, a student of Preston University in Ajman, to spearhead numerous initiatives to increase road safety awareness. The Foundation put together infomercials for radio channels, and urged people to take a Safety Driving Oath on the Foundation's website (http://www.surayafoundation.com/index.html).

The Friday effect: "The Friday magazine story has helped us spread the word about road safety enormously,'' says Mohammad. "We got some passionate volunteers who are helping us in some of our work. We are involved with different road safety projects and the Suraya Foundation has recently become the official signatory for the European Road Safety Charter, which aims to practise and share campaign practices to reduce accidents all over the world.

"Recently we have helped spread the word via social media for the ‘I Won't Let It Happen campaign' which is run by the RTA." 

6. Rubbish fashion

Published: March 30, 2012

Dgrade Clothing is a UK-based first-of-a-kind company that makes fabric from discarded plastic bottles after extracting yarn from them. "The revolutionary product could quite easily be just the solution the 21st Century needs to cope with the growing mass of plastic that remains in landfills for years to come," says Kris Barber, founder and CEO of Dgrade Clothing (http://www.dgradeclothing.com/).

The Friday effect: "I had an amazing response after the article appeared in Friday and am busy trying to deal with several enquiries that came from it - there just aren't enough hours in the day,'' says Kris.

"I have just launched the Dgrade Plastic Challenge to 16 UAE schools, in partnership with Emrill, a facilities management company. The profits from the sale of our Dgrade T-shirts are going towards the Kibera Fund, which is an initiative to put up a school near the slums of Nairobi." 

7. Dreams can come true

Published: April 29, 2011

Maria Conceicao, a former cabin crew member who developed The Dhaka Project to empower children through education in one of the world's poorest capital cities, followed it up with the Maria Christina Foundation (www.mariacristinafoundation.org) in Dubai. She decided to bring six children from the Dhaka school she had set up to Dubai and sponsor their education here. That included finding funds and sponsors for the children's education and healthcare and host families for the children to stay while in the UAE. Maria decided to undertake extreme challenges, like climbing mountains, or trekking across difficult terrain, to generate funds for the higher education of poor children.

The Friday effect: "The story opened fresh avenues to raise funds and there were a lot of people who responded to the feature and offered help," says Francoise Grindlay, spokesperson for the Foundation. The offers of help are continuing to pour in, she says. 

8. Helping people help themselves

Published: July 1, 2011

The Dubai-based Legatum Foundation is the charitable arm of the global investment company, Legatum, that promotes the sustainable development of countries around the globe. When the Foundation was set up in December 2006, it was with a mission "to alleviate the misery of those living in abject poverty and elevate their basic living conditions". It was founded by Christopher Chandler, Chairman of Legatum Global Holdings. The Foundation takes an investment approach to philanthropy, trying to achieve the highest returns on investment through its grants.

The Friday effect: "Since the story featuring Legatum was published, we continue to see dramatic results in the millions of lives that have been positively changed thanks to our granting." says Alan McCormick, Managing Director of Legatum Group. "With more than 1,200 projects in over 100 countries, the Legatum Foundation has improved the lives of over 25 million people." 

9. Wearing a smile

Published: November 11, 2011

A joint initiative between Al Noor Training Centre for Children with Special Needs in Dubai and a UAE fashion-retail house is helping young people with employment in the fashion business. Special needs students in their late teens and early 20s create dresses and handbags that go on shows and are on sale in Dubai.

The Friday effect: "The article was informative and well-written as it presented the real picture, and the right explanation of our aligning with Majid Al Futtaim Fashion,'' says Isphana Al Khatib, director, Al Noor Centre for Special Needs. "It's a collaboration to harness our children's ability, and prove to the world that they can perform up to the standard of the fashion industry."

One of the most important things was that the students were overjoyed to see their pictures, she says, "and it was especially satisfying for the parents to know that they had the support of society''. 

10. We all need Friends

Published: November 25, 2011

George Hettiaratchy, a Sri Lankan expat based in Dubai and his friends who got together to form an organisation called Friends - Fund Raising Involvement and Efforts for the Needs of the Disadvantaged in Sri Lanka.

The Friends save a dirham a day for charity. The pooled money is given to Candle Aid, an organisation that helps finance the education of poor students in Sri Lanka.

Young Sri Lankan children in Dubai also became involved with the project and formed a group Little Candle Makers. This group collects old textbooks, clothes and shoes and distribute it to underprivileged children in Sri Lanka.

The Friday effect: "Several people contacted us about our initiative for Candle Aid," says George. "Most of all it made people aware of Candle Aid Lanka and its efforts to alleviate poverty.

"Several donors came forward to sponsor needy students through Candle Aid Lanka's education programmes. The best outcome was that after reading the article several parents wanted to enrol their children as members of Little Candle Makers.

"A recent fund raiser netted Dh1,841. The Little Candle Makers plan to use this money to help poor children in Sri Lanka. We intend to start a used English books collecting campaign in the UAE soon.''

11. "How we fed 9,700 children for a day"

Published: December 16, 2011

Shahana Zaib, a third-year BA Management student at the Heriot-Watt University in Dubai, was moved after seeing the shocking pictures of refugees in Somalia in August 2011. Keen to do something about it, she and six of her friends - Arunya Paramanathan, Pooja Prasad, Sagar Chandiramani, Sultana Jahan, Karan Kumar, and Toby Toms Skaria - formed an informal group that she called ‘You', an acronym for ‘Youth of UAE' and decided to stage a walkathon to raise funds for the victims of famine in Somalia. They collected Dh9,700, which helped feed 9,700 starving children in Somalia for a day.

The Friday effect: "After the walkathon on November 26, 2011, and encouragement we received from the article in Friday, we decided to keep up the momentum," says Shahana. "We held a charity sale at the Heriot Watt University in Dubai and collected approximately Dh900. Another event held at The Millennium School in Dubai generated Dh400." 

12. I've paid for 200 children to go to school

Published: December 30, 2011

Abdul Mannan Jamaluddin, a watchman in Sharjah earning Dh1,200 a month, set up a school in Bangladesh where children can study free of charge. So far he's educated 200 children by donating most of his monthly salary and with the help of just three friends who also send him money.

The Friday effect: The response to Abdul Mannan's story was incredible. "A reader who identified himself only as George sent Dh15,000 to help expand the school," says Abdul Mannan.

In the few months since the article was published, work on one more wing for the school has started.

"It's been really great!" beams Abdul Mannan. "Several people have sent small amounts of money, which shows how people care!" 

13. Helping poor children go to school

Published: February 3, 2012

Michael Del Moro Manlogon, a Filipino expat who works for Abu Dhabi Co-operative Society in Abu Dhabi, collects used cans from malls and cafés and sells them for recycling. Michael uses the money he gets from the sale of the cans to buy school supplies for students in a remote town in the Philippines. Last year he managed to pay for two children in the Philippines to attend school as well as distribute 150 goodie bags of school supplies to children in his hometown Perez in the province of Quezon.

The Friday effect: "The response to the article in Friday was overwhelming,'' says Michael. "I was inundated with emails and phone calls from people who wanted me to arrange can collections in their neighbourhood. While some people started their own can collection drives, others have pledged monetary support. Employees of Fairmont Hotel, Abu Dhabi, are doing their own can collection drive for a fundraising project after reading about my initiative. On the personal front I gained a lot of respect, made new friends and got many more supporters.'' 

14. Lessons in kindness

Published: February 17, 2012

German supermodel-turned-philanthropist Monja Wolf quit her glamorous job in favour of a life dedicated to making a difference to the poorest people in the world. She helps charity organisations in developing countries make dreams come true. Monja, who set up Monyati Initiatives (www.monyati.com) in Abu Dhabi in 2009, has helped to start and run schools in India's impoverished Varanasi area; set up a woman-only vocational training centre in Pakistan; constructed low-cost housing in the slums of Sao Polo in Brazil and Amhara in Ethiopia among others. She networks with sponsors on behalf of charities or individuals and helps raise funds.

The Friday effect: "The feedback we received after the feature was overwhelming and incredibly helpful," says Monja. "We now have many new volunteers, NGO partners and corporations that would like to support our initiatives. We have just successfully completed our latest project, which enables children in the slums of Dhaka Bangladesh to receive proper education. We committed to support a slum school for one year and help 105 children to attend primary school." 

15. Nature's little friend

Published: February 24, 2012

The capital's little eco crusader Abdul Mukeet has been making headlines with his paper bag campaign for the past two years. Abdul makes and supplies paper bags to his neighbourhood grocery stores. He also conducts demonstrations of how to make these bags. For his undeterred efforts, Abdul was conferred the prestigious Abu Dhabi award in January 2012.

The Friday effect: "He received more than a hundred calls from people who wanted to know more about paper bags, how to make them and distribute them," says his mother Andaleeb Mannan. "After reading the article, some of his friends too were encouraged to do something for the environment and on Earth Hour on March 31, they joined Abdul at Al Raha Mall in Abu Dhabi where they made paper bags and distributed them to shoppers.''

 - By Shiva Kumar Thekkepat, Zenifer Khaleel, Mehmudah Rahman, Reena Amos yes, Anupama Chand and Tessy Koshy