Habiba Marashi has no romantic tale to narrate about her fervour for an eco-friendly world. "I did not wake up one morning and decide that I want to set up the Emirates Environmental Group", says this remarkable woman who is undoubtedly the moving force behind the Green Movement in the UAE.
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"It all began with 12 core members, including myself", says Habiba. When Habiba saw the concern that these women from New Zealand, Australia and Britain, had for the environment, she was spurred, as a National, to do her bit for the nation.
The EEG is only now recognised as being synonymous with the environmental movement in the region. "It was not always like this", recalls Habiba."When I began, friends and relations treated it like one big joke". Fortunately for all of us, EEG and Habiba had the last laugh.
The Emirates Environmental Group is the only NGO that has received an official status from the municipality. "This official recognition has made it easier for us in terms of fund collection for our various eco-drives".
Better late than...
The beginning of the 90s marked a shift in official focus in favour of a friendly environment. "The government recognised the need to be part of the global eco-drive when the oil spill off the Northern Emirates, took place," recalls Habiba. "No country can hope to fight a lone battle to save the ecology." With this shift in attitude came official recognition for EEG and a greater role for the organisation, during the annual Dubai Shopping Festivals and Dubai Summer Surprises.
Not a Charity!
The EEG is not a charity organistaion, asserts Habiba. "I have to keep reiterating time and again that we do not collect funds. Our primary objective is to heighten community awareness towards an eco-friendly environment. To do so, we initiate community-based activities for which we organise funds and corporate support."
Fund-raising is time-consuming, admits Habiba. "My office cabinets are full of plans and more plans. If I could just have a guaranteed source of funds for our activities, I could devote my time and energy fully to the task of building awareness."
- Green Village Project - a pilot project in the Al Ghusais area of Dubai focusses on garnering community participation towards a more hygienic mode of waste disposal.
- Can Collection Campaigns - a hugely popular campaign that involves schools all over the Emirates. Attractive prizes are given by corporate sponsors.
- The Wastepaper - the newsletter of the organisation is printed on locally produced recycled paper.
- Guest Speakers - from nature photographers to deep-sea divers, EEG hosts regular meetings, open to the public.
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More about our Personality
The single-room EEG office holds no secrets. Habiba freely answered questions about her work and plans, seated as we were, with her colleagues at the EEG. "Are you doing this for personal gain?" I asked. She laughed and said, "my rigorous daily schedule that keeps me away from my family is hardly aimed at any award. My faith and convictions are my sources of motivation."
My childhood||We lost our father very early, but his scholarly legacy has been our most precious heritage. I have four brothers who are doctors today.|
Star sign||Pisces. A typical one, really, with my liking for nature, painting and stitching. It was this love that made me a member of the Dubai International Arts Centre. At the DIAC, I met a group of expatriate women, who shared my concern for the ecology. What began as informal meetings has now taken the shape of the EEG. |
If not EEG and HRD, then...||I always wanted to be a dentist (laughs). |
My family||I was married off at 17, but I pursued my studies in the UK. I have four children - the older two are doing their 'A' levels.|
EEG vs Dubai Municipality?||No - I have always told the municipality to treat us as the hands that implement their projects. I would love to see the littering fine implemented just as the seat-belt rule was. I do not support the aggressive approach of some international green movements. Assertion and creative criticism are the keystones to our approach. |
What annoys me||The myopic attitude of people towards the environment. Some shortsighted individuals will even demand to know what publicity they will be getting in any eco-campaign, little realising that taking care of the environment is not a marketing gimmick, but a stepping stone for building a better future for all of us.|
Favourite place in Dubai||All the green areas alongside the roads and our wonderful parks. Everything from the water (recycled sewage water) and the compost (recycled waste from parks etc.) has been planned in an eco-friendly manner.|
||My morning hours are taken up by my official duties as Human Resources Manager at the Dubai Development Board. Come 2.30pm, I arrive at the EEG HQ at the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza. I then work till late in the evening. On Thursdays, I am here till the early hours of the morning. Fridays (or whatever is left of it) is my homework time - my time to catch up with latest developments and plan new strategies.|
Regrets||With the family - I always regret not spending enough time with them. Most of the times they understand - but sometimes, they need me for moral support.|
Isn't Ecology too technical?||Yes - there are aspects that I do not fully grasp. However I believe that if you read five books on a subject, you would have a fair knowledge. |
Eco-drive at home||I believe that every woman should know what goes in and out of the kitchen. At home I have segregated the waste and I keep it in the boot of the car and dispose of it at the recycling centres on the way to work or to the mall (no unnecessary waste of fuel either!)|
My role-model||My mother - as it is for everyone. The way she ran her home with miniumum waste was an inspiration to me. Also Sheikh Zayed Bin Nahyan - his leadership on environmental issues has made our task immensely easier.
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Habiba and the UAE community
For those of us who know the UAE - there is little doubt that this nation of modest oil reserves was not built in a day. Too often and rather unfairly, the image of the UAE national comes built-in with exotic perfumes, latest cars and all things Hedonistic. Habiba Marashi, belies that image and goes one step further. She makes you want to change your self-indulgent lifestyle, as well.
Her advice to expatriates
"Consider yourselves", Habiba tells UAE expatriates,"as part of the community, even if it is a short tenure of just a couple of years, months or days!" She is often disappointed with the callous attitude of both Western and Asian expatriates to their environment. "They (Westeners) would be fined, back home, if they do not follow the rules. The Asians have a tradition of recycling. However both these groups conveniently discard these habits as residents of the UAE. What makes matters worse is the indifferent atttitude of the UAE nationals, themselves, towards their environment."
Her advice at the workplace
Habiba joined the Dubai Development Board two years ago. She immediately initiated a cleanup campaign. As part of the Human Resources Department, she ensures that the staff switches off lights and air-conditioners before leaving. She urges staff members to use both sides of the paper and communicate via email, when necessary.
Her request to the Municipality and Police
Join hands to enforce fines on people, supermarkets and industries, polluting the environment.
Her experience with schools
Where the principal is tuned to environmental issues, our task is almost done. With inspiration from above, the teachers and students would follow suit.
EEG and Corporate Support
Corporate support has always been forthcoming in terms of sponsorship of prizes and financial backing for eco-campaigns. The office at the Holiday Inn Centre, for instance has been donated by the proprietor. DHL takes care of overseas consignments and the Dubai Postal Authorites take care of their regular mail.
Her plea to the community
Try to say no to plastic bags. Carry your own bag to the supermarket. Look out for environmentally friendly products. Mineral water bottles are now made from recycled material. Other products will follow suit if we demand it. Nearly 70% of household waste is recyclable. It just takes a little effort and a lot of faith in one's convictions to bring about a more sustainable environment.
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