A dream job

Graduates of the Desert Islands Education Centre’s travel and tourism programme are doing what they enjoy the most on Sir Bani Yas Island


Silvia Radan

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Published: Tue 27 Sep 2011, 9:25 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 10:57 AM

As a kid, Mariam Ahmed used to come to Sir Bani Yas island with her father for day trips to look at the animals the late Shaikh Zayed had brought here for conservation. She never dreamt, though, that one day she will return here to explain to visitors from all over the world about Sir Bani Yas’s salt domes or the long and dangerous journey that turtles, young and old, undetake from sand to sea. But this is now Mariam’s job.

Mariam and four other Emirati girls from the neighbouring Delma island in the far western waters of Abu Dhabi emirate are the first graduates of Desert Islands Education Centre’s (DIEC) travel and tourism programme. All five now are employed by the Tourism Education and Investment Company (TDIC), the developer of Desert Islands in Al Gharbia, which include Sir Bani Yas and Delma. Four of them work as tour guides on Sir Bani Yas and one as an administrator at DIEC.

“When I first heard about the tourism programme at the Centre, I was very happy because I thought it would suit me perfectly, so I enrolled myself,” said Mariam.

Mariam was a 2008-year graduate of UAE University in Al Ain in mass communication and public relations. Then she enrolled herself for the DIEC’s language and administrative courses and that was when TDIC announced the new travel and tourism course. And she immediately joined.

“We spent one week of training every month on Sir Bani Yas, each in a different department,” she explained.

“My favourite department was the tour guide, when I got to explain to tourists about the island and about our customs and traditions.”

Of course, she feels right at home on the island, since she used to come here regularly with her father. Over the years some things have changed, though — there is a hotel and several tourist facilities, the ruins of a pre-Islamic Christian monastery have been discovered and more animals have found a home here.

“Before, my father used to take care of a giraffe here, the first one on the island. Of course, the first thing I did when I returned as a trainee was to ask about this giraffe, but sadly I was told that it passed away. They live only for about 20 to 23 years,” remembered Mariam.

Still, a bunch of happy and mischievous giraffes keeps Mariam smiling. They have eaten up all leaves from the trees in their roaming area, she said. The island also has different kind of antelopes, and its stars are the cheetahs.“I was really sad when our training came to an end, but then we were told there is an opportunity to work here, I went for it,” she said.

For the past three months now she has been living and working on Sir Bani Yas as a tour guide, sometimes accompanying tourists on the boat transfer from the mainland and at other times introducing them to the island’s attractions and history. She also leads them on the wadi walk or in the game drive.

“There are people who come to Sir Bani Yas directly from their home country, and they don’t know anything about Emirati culture and traditions, so I explain to them about our clothes, food or history.”

It is not just tourists to whom she explains about the UAE heritage, it is the island’s staff, as well. “During Ramadan, for example, we have a celebration on the 14 and 15 day called gargaan. It is for kids, who on these days get a lot of sweets and money. Here on the island we made some special sweet bags with leaflets about gargaan as well, which we gave to the staff, who mostly don’t know about such celebrations,” said Mariam.

Most of her close family has already come to Sir Bani Yas for a visit, but she is really looking forward to her father’s visit, who is now planning to come see the island for the first time in over 20 years.

This fall, DIEC is about to start its second course in the tourism field, as well as its other courses in English language, computing, administration, management and vocational skills.

Over 300 UAE nationals have been completing one of the 30 courses offered by DIEC so far. Since 2009, the centre has been offering work placements in private and government organisations on Delma and Sir Bani Yas islands, including the Western Region Municipality, Desert Islands and National Bank of Abu Dhabi. Thirty five per cent of unemployed students have managed to find jobs after their DIEC graduation.


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