The year that was: KT's most defining stories in 2018

The year that was: KTs most defining stories  in 2018

Here are some of the stories we did this year that created a lasting impact.

The strength of a newspaper is determined by the strength of its reporters. A good reporter is always on the lookout for a story - one that makes a difference to lives and brings about change. People tend to remember a good story. It resonates with readers. Every year, we carry thousands of reports, some more affecting than others. Many of the stories we've showcased here are those that vied for space on Page 1. Many indeed made it to Page 1 - the best place for a story that has value and is prioritised. It wasn't easy narrowing the most defining stories we did in 2018. Here are a few of the several dozens we did this year that created a lasting impact.
After two years of living in debt, sleeping in a rental car and using public loos, French woman flew home

Anjana Sankar
Journalism is most meaningful when it makes a positive difference to someone's life. 
This summer, Khaleej Times broke the story of a 43-year-old French woman in Abu Dhabi who had been living in a rented car for over two years. She had lost her job and had no place to live. She had a bank loan to pay off, and had raked up fines for over-staying in the UAE. 
"I was earning Dh15,000 and had a decent apartment. But my life took an unexpected turn when I got laid off," said Rachida (who didn't want her surname disclosed). After vacating her apartment in March 2016, she said she felt there was no option but to start living in the car. "I am surviving on dole from friends and acquaintances," Rachida told Khaleej Times.
Hers is a classic case of a debt-ridden expat, who fell upon bad days after losing her job. She got fired in 2014 but could not leave the country because she had taken a bank loan. She could not pay her rents and had to vacate her house.
From 2016 onwards, Rachida spent days in the prayer rooms of shopping malls and at night, she would drive around to find open areas to pull up and park. She slept in the car. A public administrator since 2012, Rachida was now using public toilets and showers at the beach to freshen up. 
"I used to survive on a packet of chips or a glass of yogurt," said Rachida who would at times drive to Dubai. "When friends occasionally gave me money or food, I used to eat. It was a big relief to discover charity fridges in Dubai." 
Despite her plight, Rachida was affected most by not being able to see her mother (who was in France). She told Khaleej Times, "I am thankful for the generosity and kindness of strangers who bought me food and offered help occasionally." Luck eventually came to her side. She approached immigration for help, and was relieved when authorities waived her overstay fine (of more than Dh1,00,000). She was asked to pay a fine of Dh2,500 and leave the country before July 7. But leaving was not that easy for Rachida. She had a bank loan of Dh120,000 plus dues of Dh24,000 for the rental car.
When Khaleej Times published her story on June 28, readers were affected by her plight. Help poured in from all quarters, including from Rachida's previous employer. Some offered her financial assistance, some gave her job offers. She even got a marriage proposal from someone who admired her resilience.
But Rachida's priority was to go home. She got a free air ticket arranged for by a fellow French woman, a Sharjah-based reader who read the story in KT and drove from Sharjah to pick up Rachida and take her to her place.
After negotiating with the bank, she paid off her debts and was finally able to fly home and be with her mom.

Gurbinder went from amputee to standing on his own
Ashwani Kumar
Gurbinder Singh, Indian expat and former crane operator from Jalandhar, Punjab, was looking at a bleak future when Khaleej Times met him in June. Singh, 42, lost his limbs following an accident at his work site in February, and was consigned to a wheelchair.
Post the accident, he was airlifted from his company site on Zirku Island (140km away from the capital) to Mafraq Hospital for treatment. The injury that he sustained became infected and developed into a series of complications. Singh had to quickly be operated on.
"I was working at the site on February 14 and I injured my left knee while climbing a crane. At the hospital, I was kept in the intensive care unit. My kidneys had failed and my blood pressure had dipped. I was 99 per cent dead and was on a heavy dosage of medicines, " Singh had told Khaleej Times from his room in Baniyas.
"By the first week of March, my hands and legs had turned black. And by the second week of April, doctors told me that they needed to amputate both my legs and both my arms in order to save my life. I don't know how all this happened from a small injury."
According to the report from Mafraq Hospital, Singh was diagnosed with septic shock and severe left knee necrotising cellulitis (a bacterial infection), which required surgical removal of foreign material and dead tissue from around the area of injury to prevent further spread of infection.
Even before he was discharged from hospital, Singh was terminated from his job with a final settlement of Dh5,750. He did not receive the insurance amount due from his company and had no choice but to survive on small financial contributions from colleagues.
His wife Rajwinder Kaur, who flew in to Abu Dhabi to be with her husband, was clueless about paperwork needed to fight his case. Kaur was devastated at the news of her husband's amputation and didn't know what do to about the children.
"Our children have stopped going to school (their daughter is in Class 12, and son in Class 8). I don't know how to pay off the loan we had taken to build a house." Kaur broke down while speaking to Khaleej Times.
The Indian Embassy intervened after reading the KT story ('Expat who lost hands, legs says he is as good as dead', published on June 9). They spoke to Singh's employers, who then compensated Singh with Dh200,000.
The Sikh community united to support Singh. The Punjabi community contributed Rs1.1 million (Dh57,700). The India Social and Cultural Centre gave Rs500,000 (Dh26,200). The Indian Islamic Centre Abu Dhabi Rs100,000 (Dh5,200) and the Gujarati Samaj Abu Dhabi too, Rs100,000 (Dh5,200).
Dubai-headquartered Aster Healthcare also offered help. They began investigating Singh's medical condition and provided him with a custom-made wheelchair.
Their medical team in Dubai, combined with its specialised care centre in Kochi, were committed to get him well and conducted physiotherapy sessions. Singh does his physio everyday without fail.
Jaleel PA from the corporate social responsibility team at Aster DM Healthcare, said it was a collective effort from the management, doctors, paramedics and Aster volunteers to help Singh. "The wheelchair is customised for him and made in the UK. Our pharmacy team made changes to suit Gurbinder's requirements."
With the contributions from the community and compensation package, Singh was able to return to Jalandhar, his hometown, for further rehabilitation.
An Abu Dhabi based wellwisher had been following Gurbinder's case closely. Surjit Singh, a UAE-based community leader and president of the Indian Punjabi Business and Professional Forum even helped to identify the right hospital for his friend.
Surjit suggested KGM Bone Hospital, Jalandhar saying, "I put myself in his position and never had the heart to leave him alone. I was careful not to make a wrong choice. We also touched base with Ottobock, the manufacturer of artificial limbs.
After knowing about the entire case, they gave a subsidy and it cost Rs700,000 (Dh36,765).
As if on the cue, I received a call from my friend Rohit Kochhar, who knew about the case and donated Rs500,000 (Dh26,260). It was like divine intervention.
Everything fell into place. Dr Kulwant didn't wait for the payment. he immediately started working on Gurbinder's rehabilitation. I must note that everyone I spoke to knew about the Khaleej Times report," Surjit Singh said.
December 15 was a big day in the life of Gurbinder Singh. The operation was a success. He was fitted with prosthetic legs. And on his left arm received sensors to help him regain mobility. After many excruciating months, Singh stood on his own legs. All the compensation amount and contributions from the community is deposited in the bank and remains untouched.
Discharged from hospital, Singh is now back home (the building of which is nearing completion), and his kids are back at school.
Singh continues with his physiotherapy sessions and has started walking inside the house.
He told Khaleej Times this week on a phonecall from Jalandhar, "I am standing right now as we talk. I am back on my legs. I walk slowly as it will take few weeks to get used to the prosthetics," he said, adding, "I thank everyone in the community, especially Surjit Singh. And it all started with your KT report. I got my artificial limbs, and after a month, maybe on Jan 15, I will undergo another surgery and I will get my right hand."
His wife, Rajwinder, said even as he lost his limbs, the tragedy didn't break his spirit. "Today I am very happy. We still receive calls from people in the UAE asking about our well-being." Singh acknowledged the support of his wife and about his family, "Now that I can stand, I hope to make their lives secure."

A Sri Lankan track star ended up driving a cab

Suresh Pattali  
Chatting with the passenger who flagged his cab in Sharjah, driver Lalith Prasanna Galappaththi reminisced about his association with former Indian track stars Bahadur Prasad Singh, PT Usha and Shiny Wilson. It didn't take time for the passenger, a Khaleej Times journalist, to realise that he had just bumped into one of the greatest local stories of the year.
The revelation that Lalith, slogging for long hours behind the wheel, was a famed international athlete overwhelmed the newsroom. Our story about Lalith, Sri Lanka's middle distance runner with international gold and silver medals under his belt; and his friend and compatriot DW Prasantha, a former record-holding athlete, who now works as a security guard in Abu Dhabi, shook the expatriate community.
Lalith won the gold at the 1995 and 1996 Malaysian Open Championships and the bronze at the South Asian Federation Games in Madras. After he retired injured from the Sri Lankan Olympic team in 2002, he worked as a middle distance running coach with the Sri Lankan Sports Ministry till 2012. Unable to feed his family with his Rs20,000 salary as a coach, Lalith came to Dubai to work as a bellboy at a hotel apartment. He later took up the job of a taxi driver, putting in 15 hours a day.
When Khaleej Times broke the stories of the impoverished former heroes eking out a miserable existence outside their homeland, Sri Lankan social media forums across the world were inundated with more such stories of neglect and apathy.
Social media activists emailed Khaleej Times news clips to relevant departments in the Sri Lankan government.
"This is the story of lots of sportsmen in Sri Lanka. I won the national championship and I am now a store salesman," Chathura Dilanga Dissanayake wrote on the Facebook page of jobs4lankans, which has more than 23,000 members. Anger, anguish and offers of help poured in when the story went viral.
Not just Sri Lankans, other nationalities including Indians and Pakistanis called from places like the US, Bahrain and Oman pledging to find him a respectable job in the Gulf. A couple of schools in the UAE asked for his CV to consider him as a coach.
"With tears in my eyes, I read your article about the Sri Lankan athlete. We thank Khaleej Times for the heart-warming article. We have a broken system which is destroying the lives of talented individuals like Lalith," wrote jobs4lankans admin Sanjeewa Marasinghe, a social worker who left Dubai last year after a 20-year stint. "The article has created such a positive buzz, with so many individuals wanting to change the system, and at the same time help such individuals."
Khaleej Times caught up with the former track hero again recently. "The Khaleej Times report provided me with lots of positive energy. The feeling that it's never too late to look for the right job drives me to send applications. I am looking for a job as an athletics coach. I recently applied to an Indian school under construction in Sharjah. They have told me to wait as it would take another five months to start operations," says Lalith, as effervescent as ever.

Hope, Priscilla and the thousands of others who were granted a golden chance by UAE Amnesty
Dhanusha Gokulan
When a 29-year-old Nigerian mother Hope Edemevughe and her eight-month-year-old baby daughter, Favour, approached Khaleej Times on August 10, their future was bleak.
Abandoned by her husband, Hope and baby Favour were going from door to door begging for alms to clear an unpaid hospital bill of Dh12,492. Hope's visa had expired over a year ago, and Favour did not possess a birth certificate. This made it impossible for her passport to be issued.
But 12 days into the launch of UAE's 2018 amnesty programme 'Protect Yourself via Rectifying Your Status', Hope realised that it would be her only way out.
The first hurdle was the bill. Thanks to the article in Khaleej Times, several KT readers stepped in generously to help mother and baby start over. Hope's dues were cleared overnight.
On September 11, mother and daughter took a flight back home to Lagos, Nigeria. Favour now lives with her grandparents with whom she recently celebrated her first birthday - a day after Christmas.
Hope's story was only one among the thousands of lives that were saved from 'impending doom', thanks to UAE amnesty. Many rectified their status and returned home to their loved ones. Thousands of others opted for the six-month job seeker visa. The programme provided foreigners who were violating the residency law a three-month grace period to either leave the country voluntarily - without prosecution - or legitimise their status by paying the fees. Amnesty seekers were given 'a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity' in the form of a six-month job visa.
Though immigration authorities have not released statistics of people who received amnesty, diplomatic missions reveal that "at least thousands" have availed the service.
By early December, Khaleej Times learnt that up to 20,000 Bangladeshis had approached their missions, according to the Ambassador to the UAE, Muhammad Imran.
Officers from the diplomatic missions of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and several other countries have also worked tirelessly to help their citizens. The 2018 amnesty was never a story of statistics. It was a display of generosity from the UAE.
It was a remarkable to see community leaders, welfare organisations and social workers come forward to provide financial and emotional support to amnesty seekers, who were strangers to them.
Indian widow Priscilla Aden, 53, mother of a 24-year-old son, lived like a hermit for three years. She had been in depression after Darrol, her husband, died. When she received her job visa, Priscilla was filled with gratitude. Her plan was to look for a job to clear her debts and look after her son. "When I walked into the ladies' tent, I felt a huge sense of peace and calm. No one judged me for being 'illegal'.

A KT reader went out of his way to help a victim of abuse
Angel Tesorero
A story published by Khaleej Times (KT) on July 24 and a selfless act from a KT reader gave confidence to an expat mum to free herself from her abusive husband.
Midway in July, Jamila (name changed), 26, a Filipina who converted to Islam and a mother of then four-month-old baby boy, emailed KT about her abusive husband.
She could not apply for the passport for her child after her Pakistani husband took all the legal documents with him and abandoned her. She barely had enough money to buy milk and other supplies for her baby. She maxed out several credit cards and fell into debt after her husband cut her off financially.
The abuse started after Jamila found out that her husband was having an affair with a married Pakistani woman while Jamila was pregnant. She felt like she was made into a punching bag. "I was really afraid of my husband. He used to hit me - even on the head," she recounted.
But there was more. Jamila had to go through not just the physical and emotional abuse caused by her husband, she lost her job and felt humiliated at the reason given. Her boss told her that her abdomen was "too big" for her to work.
With no medical insurance, Jamila gave birth in March. The hospital bill was around Dh15,000. Her husband used her Islamic certificate to solicit money and was able to raise more than the required amount, but instead of paying the hospital, he sent it to his family in Pakistan. Jamila then maxed out her credit cards. Her credit card bill and previous bank loan amounted to around Dh100,000.
The abuse continued even after Jamila left her husband and lived with her mother in Sharjah. Her husband refused to give paternal support and even tried to kidnap her baby.
Desperate of her situation, Jamila sought the help of KT. It was also a couple of weeks before the start of the immigration amnesty.
At that time, all she wanted was to find a way to get legal documents for her baby.
An Indian businessman read her story and asked KT how he could reach her. On the same day as he read the story, the businessman, who wishes to remain anonymous, bought milk, diapers, clothes, shoes, infant food and a mosquito net and sent them to Jamila's house.
A couple of days later, Jamila contacted KT and she said the businessman offered her a temporary flat, and was willing to help her get a passport for her baby.
But there were some legal procedures that she had to finish first before she could apply for her baby's passport. And there was still the threat of her abusive husband.
So, the solution was this: Jamila went home to the Philippines with her baby (who was given one-way immigration outpass to leave the UAE), and the businessman paid for their airfare.
A month ago, when KT spoke to Jamila again, she said she was back in Dubai under the sponsorship of the same generous businessman.
Her baby is safe and she now works at a courier company in Dubai as an office manager.
Jamila said she is forever grateful to the benefactor businessman and to KT - both gave her the confidence to free herself from her husband and start life anew.

A spin around the city that cost the driver dearly

Kelly Clarke
How can someone clock up Dh170,000 in speeding fines in a matter of hours, without noticing? That was the question on everyone's lips when the story broke this summer about the speeding Lamborghini in Dubai. And it was Khaleej Times who brought you the exclusive apology from the man behind the wheel.
"Look, I hold my hands up to the fines and the speeding. I'm not going to make any excuses. I was a 25-year-old guy in a Lamborghini, I was stupid and I take full responsibility. But seeing my name all over the news has been crazy. I didn't talk until now because I didn't want to jeopardise getting my passport back," red-faced British tourist, Farah Hashi told Khaleej Times from his hotel room on August 16.
For weeks, local and international media clung on to this story due to its unique circumstances. On July 31, in the space of just 234 minutes, Hashi clocked up a total of 35 speeding fines, exceeding the speed limit in his rented Lamborghini by more than 80kmph, a whopping 11 times.
While the car rental firm was very vocal with local media, Hashi was nowhere to be seen. But with a police file out against his name, he took refuge in a Dubai hotel and kept his head down. Flying back to the UK and burying his head in the sand wasn't an option.
The story sparked huge interest as more and more details about the fines came out and snaps of the abandoned canary yellow Lamborghini Huracan, which sat abandoned outside the same hotel, went viral.
It was only weeks later, when Hashi managed to settle the hefty bill - thanks to a Dh50,000 discount from Dubai Police and a "whip around from friends back home" - that he came clean to us.
Why, was the first question Khaleej Times asked; "why did you keep speeding?" And his answer was honest, if not a little naive.
"I didn't see them flash to be honest. I guess because of the speed I was going at. In the UK, the speeding cameras are yellow and you can clearly see them but I'm a tourist here so couldn't spot the cameras."
Holding his hands up and admitting his answers weren't "acceptable or to be taken as a green light for speeding", he simply called it the "truth".
While Hashi's spin in the luxury rental became a huge talking point across the media, it ended up being a pricey outing for what was originally meant to be a long weekend away.
"If you add up the fine paid, hotel expense and original cost of the rental, I probably spent about Dh180,000 in all. That's a painful lesson."

UAE went big on space and we were on top of our game

Sarwat Nasir
The UAE's first satellite communication station was established in 1975 by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Today, 43 years later, the country is set to become one of the largest investors in the space sector worldwide, with more than $20billion already invested.
Khaleej Times has been on the forefront of covering stories related to the country's space industry, including its ambitious plans of setting up an entire Mars-like city in Dubai, sending an astronaut to space, launching an unmanned probe to orbit Mars and educating the youth on this subject.
The year 2018, in particular, has been a busy one for space-related news. Many key announcements were made in the past few months. The events that took place this year also put UAE's space industry on the global map.
First Emirati-made satellite into space 
For the past five years, a team of 70 Emirati engineers at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) had been building an advanced Earth-observation satellite, called KhalifaSat. The country already has eight satellites in space - government-owned and commercial - but KhalifaSat would be a first: 100 per cent locally- made. Previously, it was mostly South Korea who helped with the development of UAE's satellites, as Emirati engineers would spend several years there, learning and training.
On October 29, at 8.08am Dubai time, history was made as KhalifaSat was successfully launched into space from Japan's Tanegashima Space Centre. Today, it's orbiting Earth and is helping the country across different sectors.
The launch was broadcasted live worldwide and became a top trend on social media that day, with more than 15,000 Arabic tweets that surfaced within just the first hour.
Khaleej Times interviewed KhalifaSat's project leader, Amer Al Sayegh, who was on ground in Japan, a few minutes after the successful launch, where he revealed details of the smooth take-off.
The Palm Jumeirah islands became the first image captured by KhalifaSat.
UAE's first Emirati astronaut corps chosen
UAE may have been formed only 47-years-ago, but it is already reaching for the stars with its plans to launch the first Emirati into space in 2019. The UAE Astronaut Programme was announced in 2017 and within a few months, 4,022 Emiratis had applied.
However, it was this year when breakthrough announcements were made. On June 21, the astronaut's first mission to the ISS was announced. On September 4, the names of the first two astronauts were revealed.
On September 30, Khaleej Times became the first media worldwide to confirm the dates of the mission that would take the Emirati into space, which was originally from April 5 to April 16. However, because of the launch failure incident on October 11, all of the following launch dates were changed. The new mission dates, which the Emirati astronaut is meant to be on, are to be announced.
The Soyuz MS-10 launch failure was indeed shocking, as no such kind of incident with a Soyuz spacecraft had occurred since the early 1980s. But it didn't dampen Emirati spirits. The two astronauts, Hazza Al Mansouri and Sultan Al Nayadi, remain in Russia for training and are waiting for the new dates to be revealed.
Student made nanosat launched into space
It's not just the engineers at MBRSC aiming for the skies, students in the UAE also have ambitious plans when it comes to space. In fact, a group of students at Khalifa University were able to send a nanosatellite, called MySat-1, to the ISS on November 17. Even though the CubeSat was built mainly for educational purposes, it highlighted the great effort the country is putting into ensuring the youth is also aware of the opportunities that await them in the space sector.
The UAE Space Agency, the federal authority of all space-related activities in the UAE, has played a major role in ensuring awareness of space across educational institutions nationwide. The agency partnered with the UAE Ministry of Education (MoE) and made space a part of the curriculum for Grade 10 in all schools that follow the MoE curriculum. It has also toured hundreds of private schools across all emirates, educating the youth on space. Several summer and winter space camps have also been launched in the country, including those by MBRSC and Compass
UAE's plans to become top space tourism hub
The commercial space industry is also a major focus area for the UAE. A space law was passed on September 30, which set guidelines for investments in country's commercial space industry. The details of this law weren't disclosed right away, however, Khaleej Times was able to reveal that the law would include specifics of space tourism in the UAE, space mining and how investors would be protected. We were also able to reveal that the UAE was in "advanced talks" with Virgin Galactic on using the country as their main launch and take-off spots for their space tourism flights.

What's expected in 2019?
The UAE is expected to make history in 2019 as it will launch the first Emirati into space. Not only will this put the country on the global map, it will also pave the way for further scientific discoveries and for upcoming Emirati astronauts. The ISS has been visited by astronauts from 18 countries and the UAE is about to be added to that list. Next year, it is likely that the UAE astronaut corps could grow in numbers after the first mission proves to be a success.
Also, major announcements relating to MBRSC's Mars probe, called Hope, can be expected as the launch is scheduled for 2020.
With KhalifaSat already in space, MBRSC could be working on newer satellites now that the engineers have proven their capability of building advanced space objects.
As for space tourism, maybe talks between Virgin Galactic and UAE Space Agency to use the country as a hub for space flights could turn into action.

Brought light on the plight of stranded sailors in the UAE
Dhanusha Gokulan
This year, Khaleej Times covered multiple cases of sailors stranded and unable to go home for months at a stretch. In many cases, the crew suffered medically, morales weakened, with supplies running out but no respite from home governments. There were several reasons for these circumstances. Often it was the case that ship owners didn't pay dues owed to port authorities and vessels were detained.
On August 6, we wrote about 18 Indian seamen living in deplorable conditions for over six months after being stranded on a gas tanker off the coast of Fujairah.
After months of distress calls and repeated tweets to authorities, both in India and in the UAE, the Fujairah Port and the Consulate General of India in Dubai swung into action. The crew on the disputed LPG tanker Maharshi Vamadeva, an Indian vessel, had not been paid wages since February. A few miles off the coast of Fujairah, the crew lived off charity provided by the Fujairah Port harbour master, port authorities and donations from other ships. "One crew member, Jitendra Kumar Pandey (44), an electrical officer, was repatriated as he suffered a heart attack on board. After receiving care from the Fujairah Port Medical Centre, he was sent home to India," the ship's second officer, Vishwa Gupta, told Khaleej Times.
With limited water, food, and medical supplies, men on board shed 10-15kg. "On some days, we survived on two loaves of bread and water," said Gupta. With no electricity on board (as the men are not supplied with diesel to run the ship's generator) they weren't able to store food.
The seamen, led by the ship's captain Kumar Krishna, decided to abandon ship on July 31 after receiving the go-ahead from the Fujairah Port authorities. However, they were stopped by the Fujairah Coast Guard.
On August 14, Khaleej Times, reported good news. As Sumathi Vasudev, acting Consul-General of India, said, "The tickets are booked, and the men are free to return home."
Not least of all, earlier this week, we carried the story of three Indian sailors - who had been stranded on separate ships for over three years, - and who were finally able to fly home.
Sailors Zubair Khan (on board AB1), Harender (on board MV Ocean Grace) and Mohammed Shakeel (on board MT Dharma) were living on their vessels since 2015.
After months of suffering without being paid their salaries on time, the three men were repatriated to their hometowns in India. Speaking to Khaleej Times ahead of their departure, the men said they had lost all hope and could hardly believe that they were on their way back home.

He rode the football fever to launch an eco battle

Kelly Clarke
The headlines tell us Dubai isn't short on kids trying to make a difference. All it takes is a flick through our popular sister magazine, Young Times, and you'll be bombarded with letters from young readers pledging to do their bit for Mother Earth.
But it was football mad, Faiz Mohammed who caught the attention of one of the head honchos at Dubai Municipality (DM) this year.
Following the Khaleej Times article on June 25 ('Boy Uses Football Frenzy to Send a Message Against Plastic Waste'), the 10-year-old Dubai student was made a shining example for his environment-conscious thinking. Just days after our story went out, he was honoured as a 'Sustainability Ambassador' by Abdulmajeed Abdulaziz Saifaie, director of waste management department at DM.
It was his savvy thinking that earned him the title. While other kids plonked themselves in front of their TVs at night, Mohammed spent his free time conducting a little research. And his investigations revealed some painful home truths.
Trekking to and from more than 20 supermarkets in his local area, he calculated that, on average, small groceries wasted about 1,200 plastic bags a month, just to deliver goods.
To combat the excess wastage, Mohammed went on a mission to reduce that number across the city. Using his own Eid money, he turned his love for the FIFA World Cup into an innovative way to catch peoples' attention and started dishing out hand-designed tote bags to delivery drivers; each bag donning the name of a popular football team in the World Cup.
And it was that smart and sustainable thinking that caught the attention of Saifaie.
"The fact that this boy didn't use his Eid money to buy a ball, toy, or something for himself is commendable. He has a good hobby. If his family and community keep encouraging that, he will have a good future and so will the environment," Saifaie said during the duo's meeting.
And more than just being handing him a fancy name badge, Mohammed was promised funding from Dubai Municipality to help scale-up his reusable bags initiative.
"We spend millions per year to bring this idea of sustainable practice into students' minds, but you are doing it on your own. We will support you. You do not need to take money from your own pocket anymore."

Good conduct certificates got 15 seconds of fame
Staff Reporter
Those looking for jobs in the UAE needed a good conduct certificate, for a while.
Basically, job seekers needed a clean chit - till they didn't. First, there was an announcement on February 4 that newcomers to the UAE would need to provide a such a good conduct certificate or at least a police clearance certificate before they even sought a job in the UAE.
The idea was to ensure an even safer environment in the UAE. Then in March, there was a change of plans. A cabinet decision said that from April 1, said certificate would no longer be required. This new announcement was welcomed by consulates and embassies in the UAE. Navdeep Singh Suri, ambassador of India to the UAE told Khaleej Times that it was a "great development".
The Philippine consul-general to Dubai, Paul Raymund Cortes, reiterated the same.
The UAE urged embassies and consulates not to request for the certificate any more.
Khaleej Times, in several reports in the first quarter of 2018, brought attention to the unnecessary inconvenience such a certificate would be to procure.
Our coverage brought readers updates on the certificate back and forth, with stories on how it would be an added financial burden especially for the economically weaker sections, who would have to pay off agents and touts. The profession that did, however, still need a good conduct certificate was teaching - a measure to ensure the safety of students. An official at the National Qualifications Authority told us, "This is a normal requirement everywhere around the world. You have to know who is coming to work for you - does he or she have a criminal background?"
All teachers in the UAE, as Khaleej Times reported in September, need a clean chit from the police of the country they last taught at in order to get their licence approved. The requirement also applies to those currently teaching in the UAE.
A UAE teacher's licence is mandatory, as is a teaching permit, depending on the rules in the emirate where the school is located.In Dubai, teachers have to get a permit from the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) after they receive their teaching licence, which is issued by the Ministry of Education (MoE).
The licence and permit will have to be renewed every three years. However, a teacher can switch jobs within the emirate using the same permit.

More news from