'I miss the UAE's air of possibility'

This much I know Leila Mroueh, 36, is a freelance communications consultant, TV and radio producer and life coach.
Leila Mroueh, the co-director of Ziyarat, is currently in London for an exhibition called Arabise Me.
Leila Mroueh, the co-director of Ziyarat, is currently in London for an exhibition called Arabise Me.

Leila Mroueh, 36, is a freelance communications consultant, TV and radio producer and life coach. I was born in Beirut and bred in London where my sisters and parents still live. I have one brother who lives in Dubai. I came to the UAE to work on reality TV, which I had hoped would revolutionise youth culture in the region. Most recently, I returned to explore what initiatives are being rolled out by and for young people across the Middle East as research for a new project I am working on.

An average day for me is hard to gauge as one of the things I have worked hard to manifest is a life that allows me to work on different things I am passionate about. But in general, I'm up with the larks by 6:30am. I live in a sleepy village 45 minutes from London, so assuming I am not working from home, I'm in a cab and on a train by 8am most mornings. Most recently, I have been working with Mahita El Bacha Urieta on Arabise Me, a multi art form event we produce under our organic organisation, Ziyarat. I spend a lot of time working on visa applications, updating our website, and Skyping with Mahita as she is in Abu Dhabi. All this early rising makes me a lightweight when it comes to going out at night as I have usually passed out by 10pm listening to the radio.

My job needs me to be solutions focused and curious with a healthy dose of humour and with the flexibility to communicate with a number of different people. My family is scattered all over the world, from Brazil to Hong Kong, with a large number living in Norway. I miss the UAE's air of possibility and access. I love that you can phone almost anyone and say I want to meet you to discuss X and for the most part they say great, let's meet and talk tomorrow. When I was working as a task producer for an investor with MBC, I was always blown away by how quickly we could turn things around - it's quite magical. If I had wanted to do something even half as ambitious in the UK, it would never have been possible. The presupposition in the UAE is one of yes, if you can communicate clearly what you want, it is possible.

I'm happiest being in the flow, being inspired and inspiring others to be the change they seek. A young person's face when they have had a eureka moment or personal breakthrough of realisation through a powerful coaching session is a joyful sight. I smile when seeds I have planted in the garden have grown into useful and beautiful things like tomatoes. I studied at a private girls school in Hampstead and hated it as I was the only Arab girl back then, among all these Jennifers and Cordelias. I was so unhappy I used to fake illness each morning and would only leave the car when my mother would coax me out by singing I Have Confidence from The Sound of Music. Thankfully I was sent to an art therapist who made me draw stuff and after weeks recommended I go to a more mixed school. I was moved to an incredible inner London comprehensive which I loved.

I last cried when I learnt that Michael Marland, the headmaster from my later school, had died recently. He was an eccentric and incredible educationalist who inspired every single one of his students and instilled an ethos of aiming high. He used to deliver these incredible assemblies saying things like "learn to be alone, but never be lonely" which was pretty profound. In true Michael Marland style, even in death he worked his magic as all his former students met on Facebook and wrote him the most moving messages.

Down the road, I want to continue being curious about the world and find new ways to engage and empower young people in the Middle East to step into their lives through culture, personal development and anything in between which motivates them to bring out the best in what they want for themselves. I respect anyone who is willing to take responsibility for their lives, anyone who looks beyond the everyday road-bumps and says: it's not what happens to you that matters, it's what you do with what happens to you that makes the difference.

Published: July 27, 2008 04:00 AM

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