It all started in 1971 — The Year of the Union, the year of dreams, hopes and aspirations. Coming from a small village in Fujairah, my father had big dreams. He always believed in the power of giving, the power of khair (goodness) and the power of kindness.
As one of the first members of the UAE Federal Council, he was one of the many strong voices that represented the needs of the government. In 1977, he joined the Ministerial Cabinet as the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, and his love for the homeland grew. He loved the palm trees, the water, the wadis (valleys) and the land.
Growing up, my father shared stories of Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashed’s Majlises. We were always in awe of these stories. These legendaries, the nation’s fathers, were truly and deeply invested in their people— in us, all of us living on this abundant land.
In the early 1980s, a young girl grew up with similar dreams— to do good, help others and give back to this land. This girl had a younger sister with autism. Back then, there wasn’t much information about autism. People did not understand the subtle differences that set apart those with autism. Naturally, this girl and her family became activists, campaigning for people with autism and other needs. This family promoted acceptance and inclusion of people on the spectrum. Volunteering for this cause, in her sister’s school and other avenues, became a calling for this girl from a young age. At university, she gravitated towards projects supporting people of determination. From photographing children with Down’s Syndrome to a printmaking project on American Sign Language, she knew her purpose.
This girl is now a mother to a beautiful girl who had challenging medical needs. Her precious gift from Allah was a special baby with a rare profound bilateral hearing loss. And so, she began the next chapter of her life. The different pieces of the puzzle that is her life started to come together. As she yearned to find ways to communicate with her baby, she entered the world of sign language. The journey she was on slowly became more evident with time— to continue to make a difference, to support families, and to help the community. The roots were already firmly planted, and this tree grew with intricate branches.
This mother established Kalimati, a social enterprise to support families and their children in receiving the right therapy and services for their additional needs. She became one of the voices of social inclusion and systemic integration in the country.
In a short time, she yearned to do more, give more and create more. She was inspired by the stories she heard as a little girl— stories of the founders, her land and her ancestors. She found creative channels to continue her activism. She organized several international conferences for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing for the first time in the region, where the president of the world’s first university for the Deaf, delivered a keynote speech.
In contrast to typical conferences where special arrangements are made for Deaf & Hard of Hearing attendees , this conference provided interpreters to interpret sign language into regular speech, for hearing attendees. As a result, the attendees were forced to get a sense of the challenges that the Deaf & Hard of Hearing face on a daily basis.
She also worked on other creative projects and social art campaigns to support the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
This woman strongly believed in the power of partnerships, collaborations, events and campaigns. Little did she know that this work would make a difference. She had no idea that one day, the very people who were her role models— the rulers of this nation, were the ones to award her, simply for her determination to give back to the community.
It is unbelievable how much has been achieved in the past 50 years. Dreams do come true when one works hard to achieve their passion. Our rulers have certainly set the example showing us that there is no such thing as impossible. The past 50 years say a lot about how the next 50 will be. A vision, a will, and a believing beating heart are what we need to make dreams come true.
Bedour Saeed Al Raqbani is an Emirati Social Activist & Entrepreneur.
This article is part of the “The UAE’s 50” series, featuring stories and journeys of people who call the UAE home. You can share your personal stories in the UAE via www.UAEYearof.ae