Abu Dhabi Award winners tell of their pride over honours

Abu Dhabi Award winners have spoken about what it means to collect the highest accolade in the emirate.

Dominik Vugrinec, second left, is congratulated by his friends at Raha International School in Abu Dhabi after winning the top award. Ravindranath K / The National
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ABU DHABI // Community leaders honoured with an Abu Dhabi Award have spoken of what it means to collect the capital’s highest honour.

Seven recipients were presented with a glittering gold statue, now synonymous with the awards, at a ceremony this week at the Emirates Palace hotel. Members of the royal family, ministers and government officials gathered to honour those whose selfless actions have benefited the country.

Held under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, this was the seventh time the awards have taken place since they were launched in 2005.

Since then, 63 recipients have been honoured.

This year the Abu Dhabi Awards campaign received nominations from 117 nationalities, a record.

Dominik Vugrinec

Two years ago, when doctors told Dominik he had scoliosis, a condition which causes curvature of the spine, the boy reacted with a maturity beyond his young age.

The now 14-year-old pupil at Al Raha International School, did not, as many others might have, sit back and resign himself to his condition.

Instead Dominik, from Croatia, took it upon himself to educate others about scoliosis, which can cause severe deformities if left unchecked.

In his own words, he did not want any others to suffer as he had.

He put up posters, contacted local newspapers, organised a specialist to deliver an educational speech in school and shared information among his classmates, teachers, peers and parents.

As part of his educational campaign, he pushed for in-school screening for early signs of the condition, which can be painful and debilitating if not detected early.

A simple test looking at the spine in a standing and bending position can check for any asymmetry or unevenness of the back.

Dominik’s initial efforts led to hundreds of pupils being checked. Of those, 14 showed early signs of scoliosis.

The screening campaign was soon adopted by other schools and now hundreds more have been screened.

Collecting the award was a highlight of a long journey for Dominik, who has shown a remarkable recovery from the condition.

“I felt really happy to walk on that stage and pick up the award,” he said. “I felt the support of the people had helped me get there. It was really inspirational and it is just going to motivate me further.”

His next goal is to help make screening available in all UAE schools, he said.

“I am very proud of him,” said his mother, Valentina Konfic-Vugrinec. “It is very hard to express in words.”

Dominik would like people to visit his Facebook page Awareness of Scoliosis in the UAE to spread the word.

Jumaa Manea Al Ghuwais

Standing on stage and collecting an Abu Dhabi Award to the thunderous applause of the audience was “a very, very proud moment” for one of the UAE’s most well-known poets.

His poems This is our Country and Zayed’s Home reflect the national pride of the Emirati people and are recited by young and old alike as part of National Day celebrations.

“I have been called The People’s Poet, which is very special to me and this award is for all the people of the UAE,” said Al Ghuwais.

“The message I always like to spread is that the UAE is a place everyone can belong and the Abu Dhabi Awards are just the same – they are open to all with no barriers at all. That is another big reason why this was such a significant moment in my life and an evening I will never forget.”

Writing poetry began as a hobby many years ago just to make people happy, he said.

“I never really thought it would go beyond that. But then it took the attention of Sheikh Zayed and we began to share poems together and those memories will live with me forever. I learnt so much from him.

“It is quite humbling to know that every day people in the UAE sing my words and I don’t usually like to take the attention that brings. But this award allows me to say thanks for everything that everyone has done for me.”

Peter Hellyer

What started out as a hobby for the amateur archaeologist developed into a passion that would help to chart the UAE’s rich heritage and history.

Mr Hellyer, 66, arrived in the UAE in 1975 to make documentary films about the overseas state visits of Sheikh Zayed, and now counts editor, journalist, environmentalist, archaeologist and author among his illustrious pastimes.

Originally from the UK, Mr Hellyer became an active member of the Emirates Natural History Group, then co-founded the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeology Survey, a body responsible for the identification and excavation of archaeological sites on the coast and islands of Abu Dhabi.

In the process, he has helped unveil the country’s forgotten history and uncovered some of the most significant historical sites in the region, many of which are of international importance, including the pre-Islamic Christian monastery on Sir Bani Yas Island, which provided the first physical evidence of Christianity in pre-Islamic southeastern Arabia.

Collecting the accolade was a huge privilege.

“It is a great honour to receive the award. In a way I am being rewarded for having enjoyed myself, pursuing passions of mine for so many years.

“This country has been very good to me. It is nice to feel I have contributed to the knowledge of the UAE and some of that knowledge is significant.”

Mr Hellyer credits Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces; Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development; Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Majid Al Mansouri, chairman of the Department of Municipal Affairs; and Mohammed Al Bowardi, former secretary general of the Executive Council, for their support in allowing him to pursue his passions.

Mouza bint Mroshed Al Subousi

Few can be described as true role models, but the late Mouza bint Mroshed Al Subousi was a pioneer for women of her generation.

A respected and beloved member of the community, Ms Al Subousi was a healer by trade and used traditional herbal remedies to help the sick and injured in the community. She was known for refusing financial reward for her help and soothed and cured hundreds free of charge.

Her son, Khadem Al Romaithi, who received the award on her behalf, said she wanted to help as many people as she could.

“She would think that anyone who was sick was like her own son, and so she would treat them as such,” he said.

“Many people would say ‘Mouza is a woman who is worth the weight of ten men’,” he said.

Winners of the awards, which honour the legacy of Sheikh Zayed, founder of the nation, were chosen based on the merit of their actions and each nominee was investigated and evaluated by a panel, which then presented a final shortlist to a judging committee made up of senior government officials.

When determining Ms Al Soubousi as one of the seven winners, judges described her as a role model for women of her generation and those who came after her.

Dr Falih Handhal

Arriving in the UAE in 1968, Dr Falih Handhal’s primary occupation was working on the oil wells.

It was there he interacted with local Bedouin, desert-dwelling Arabs who helped him develop a passion for local dialects and poetry.

As his passion grew, Dr Handhal, an Iraqi, felt it was important to preserve this slice of the UAE’s rich history and heritage.

Now a historian and co-author of more than 35 books on the history and culture of the UAE and the region, Dr Handhal spent hours tracking, recording, researching and detailing the linguistic riches of Bedouin oral culture. The words were later recorded in his dictionary, Arabic Dialect and Spoken Words of the UAE.

His book, of which there are about 30,000 copies in the UAE, takes pride of place in many Emirati homes.

Sultan Al Amaimi, director of the poetry academy in Abu Dhabi, said he was the proud recipient of Mr Handhal’s own copy, and the last one available.
Mr Al Amaimi said the UAE would be missing an integral piece of history without the work carried out by the historian.

“Had he not done such a tremendous job researching ... then the UAE would have a huge gap in its national library.”

Roger Upton

For five decades, the passionate falconer Roger Upton has pursued the sport and dedicated his time to such an integral part of UAE desert life and culture.

For many years he hunted alongside his lifelong friend, Sheikh Zayed, founder of the UAE.

“Mr Upton has been an enthusiastic falconer for more than 50 years,” said Dr Margit Muller, director of Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. “During his time with Sheikh Zayed he got a very deep insight of falconry in Arabia.”

Mr Upton’s travels across the region in search of the best trappers, hunters and artisans led to his book Arab Falconry: History of a Way of Life.

“Mr Upton wrote in his very famous book that falconry is not a sport here,” said Dr Muller. “In former times falcons were used to hunt meat to help the Bedouin families survive and this is something that the western world has never understood and never experienced. He took those differences and portrayed them in a very beautiful way.”

The award recognised Mr Upton’s role in helping to preserve an essential Bedouin custom.

Mark Upton received the award on his father’s behalf.

Abdullah Mohammed Al Masaood

Abdullah Mohammed Al Masaood Al Muhairbi is a member of one of the oldest families in the emirate.

The community champion received the Abu Dhabi award for his long-standing service to the Government in the field of foreign service and his tireless charitable efforts.

According to judges, Mr Al Masaood had acted as chairman of the National Consultative Council and he had deepened valued relationships with other countries through his support of cultural, social and business initiatives.

Masaood Ahmed Al Masaood received the award on behalf of his uncle.

The Federal National Council member Sultan Rashid Al Dhaheri described Mr Al Masaood as a “generous person and one of the most important businessmen in Abu Dhabi” who had significantly contributed to progressing Abu Dhabi both politically and in economy.

Zeki Nusseibeh, a lifelong friend, said Mr Al Masaood was very active in the UAE community, especially in business.