ABU DHABI // Fatima Al Rayssi is a good example of why so many people move to the UAE – to better themselves and provide their children with better opportunities.
Her parents were uneducated and poor when they emigrated from their native Pakistan to this country in the 1970s.
“I belonged to a very poor family and both my parents were illiterate,” said Ms Al Rayssi, 23, who was born in the UAE.
“My father is a bus driver in the Western Region and my mother a housewife, but they wanted their children to study and be well educated.”
Although her family lived with friends to reduce costs, that did not stop Ms Al Rayssi from becoming one of the top pupils at her school. She was later offered a partial scholarship for university tuition.
“UAE education is very expensive and my elder brother was already in university, so my parents couldn’t help me,” she said. “I had to find a job.”
When she was 18, Ms Al Rayssi worked for the health insurer Daman in the mornings and tutored Emirati children in the evenings. She was also studying business management at Emirates College on weekends.
“It gave me the money I needed to study at university,” she said. “After my second year, I got married and moved to Abu Dhabi.”
In May, she graduated with a 3.99 grade point average, the highest at her university and a first for a Pakistani student.
“My parents were so happy and so proud,” Ms Al Rayssi said. “My dad came from a very small place in Pakistan and no one in the family was educated, but the UAE has given a lot to my parents.
“All of their children were born here and they earned money for us to study. Things are much better now and it is a big change for our whole family.”
Her story will be published in the English and Arabic versions of 45 Inspiring Stories, a book launched by the government body Aqdar, under the Khalifa Student Empowerment Programme.
Jehan Ibrahim, an eight-year-old Indian resident of Sharjah who is skilled in paper quilling, will also have her story published in the book.
“I made small earrings, pendants and keychains at first,” she said.
“I then came to know about Dubai Cares and the amazing work they do. I thought Dubai is doing so much for others and succeeding, so maybe I should help people too.
“I knew I couldn’t make a major change but my mother told me to do something in my own capacity.”
Jehan quilled more than 40 sets of earrings that she sold to raise more than Dh1,400 to sponsor vaccinations for orphans in India through Child Rights and Youth, a UK organisation.
Dr Sunayna Iqbal, Jehan’s mother, said her daughter was now working on raising Dh2,200 to sponsor vaccinations for an entire village.
“She speaks at forums about this and wants to inspire others to take it up,” said Dr Iqbal.
“She is the youngest brand ambassador for the Protect Your Mom campaign for breast cancer and we also won the Sheikh Hamdan Distinguished Family award this year.”
45 Inspiring Stories is part of "Express Your Love for the UAE", a campaign that gives residents a chance to contribute to society.
“We found a lot of expatriates living here who love the UAE,” said Dr Ibrahim Al Dabal, director of the programme.
“It is a chance for them to express themselves and to let people around the world know what the UAE is doing, to coincide with the 45th anniversary of the UAE’s founding.”
George Itty, an adviser to the programme, said: “All this time, we have been taking from the UAE, so it is our responsibility to give back and express gratitude to the country that has done so much for all of us.”
Stories and photographs can be submitted until October 10, in English or Arabic, to firstname.lastname@example.org.