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KT Impact: Our most memorable stories that made a difference

Team KT
Filed on April 16, 2018 | Last updated on April 16, 2018 at 09.25 am
KT Impact: Our most memorable stories that made a difference

Stories have not paused for past 40 years and the journey will continue with appealing images and videos.

KT reporters retrack their footsteps so far

Aiding the rescue of 23 workers living in a bus

By Dhanusha Gokulan

A day before senior photographer Mukesh Kamal retired from Khaleej Times in 2015, a former colleague and I went to bid him goodbye at his apartment in Karama. He was heading back to Delhi, India, and called the two of us over for tea and snacks.

While discussing his long, illustrious career with Khaleej Times, Mukeshji (like how we fondly called him) joked about some of our adventures during work assignments. Before I left, he asked, "I have some social worker friends here in Dubai. If I give them your mobile number, will you help them out with some of their cases?" I happily obliged, and we said our goodbyes, promising to visit him in Delhi.

Though I didn't hear from any of Mukeshji's social worker friends for some months, mid-December 2015, I received the first-ever text message from Indian social worker Girish Pant asking if I was free to meet him. He provided Mukeshji's reference and said: "Will you be able to come to the crude parking lot near the Dubai Abattoir at 8.30 pm? Don't worry; I promise you will be safe." He added, "I've been knocking many doors for help and I desperately need your help."

His request was highly unusual, but I agreed to meet since Pant sounded more desperate and concerned than dubious. The events that transpired after that night transformed the way I viewed what I do for a living. Pant took me to a non-air-conditioned passenger bus, which had been home to 23 Asian workers for over two weeks. They'd left their labour accommodation in Fujairah since the living conditions there were unbearable and they weren't paid salaries for several months.

Though I'd done my fair share of stories about stranded workers, sailors and related humanitarian cases, this particular case left me more disturbed than any of the others. The men were living and sleeping inside a bus, and eating rationed food supplied by nearby mosques and other social workers. Many of them were sick, and the owner of their company had absconded.

When Khaleej Times notified the UAE authorities, they jumped into swift action. My colleague Amira Agarib handed over information about the case to the human rights division of the Dubai Police, and in a matter of hours, preparations were made to move the workers to labour camps in Dubai and Sharjah.

Two days after our story was published, the men were repatriated back to their home countries.

A few days later I received a Whatsapp image from Arun Mishra, one of the workers in the bus. He sent a pic of himself, reunited with his wife and kids. An ending to sad stories like these makes my career as a journalist genuinely worth it.

dhanusha@khaleejtimes.com

This refugee's stare was cold, his generosity warm

By Kelly Clarke

I met Pascal Pio Alau at the Liberty Primary School in the Adjumani district in Uganda. He is one of more than one million South Sudanese refugees to have arrived in Uganda since 2014. Our encounter came about by chance during a Press trip with a local Dubai charity.

As school children were playing outside two concrete block classrooms, kicking up orange sand and laughing, I spotted a group of adults inside one of the buildings; their faces serious. I overheard one man describe his struggles within the refugee camp. He had a wife and 13 children. That man was Pascal.

As the discussion ended, I approached him; I wanted to know his story. It was his eyes that first struck me. His sclera (the white outer layer of the eye) had a yellow twinge. His irides, so dark in colour they almost blended in with his pupils.

He held my stare throughout our 30 minute chat and it was that close up of his face which appeared front and centre on the final print page. It went on to win an Award of Excellence from the Society for News Design (SND).

I asked Pascal about his 13 children. I wondered how one man could support such a large family in a refugee camp where assistance from charities was the sole provider putting food on the table. That's when I found out four of the 13 children were actually orphans.

Their parents (Pascal's neighbours in South Sudan) were both deceased. One succumbed to disease; the other was a victim of gunfire during conflicts back home. He told me he had no choice but to take them with him to Uganda. "They are people of God, I cannot leave them," was the quote in my story 'Escaping conflict and Civil War in South Sudan, I am a refugee', which went to press on December 9, 2017.

Working for Khaleej Times has seen me cover many stories, both locally and internationally. But it is Pascal's story that has stuck out in my memory.

I live in a region (the Middle East) rife with saddening stories about displaced refugees from Syria, Iraq and Yemen, but this story was a little different. It shed light on the millions of South Sudanese refugees; refugees who are rarely talked about in the press.

The one thing that struck me most about Pascal was his generosity. As he sat telling me the daily issues he faced: like the hours spent each day travelling 3km to collect water from one of only two boreholes in his settlement, he did something which humbled me.

As an aid worker was handing out juice and biscuits, Pascal took his and offered them to me. I was his "guest" and he wanted to make me feel welcome. A man with so little didn't hesitate to give me everything he had at that one moment.

kelly@khaleejtimes.com

From Syrian children to meeting Sophia the humanoid

By Sarwat Nasir

I have been a journalist for more than five years, so when I was asked to write an article on one of my most memorable stories, more than one popped into mind.

For the longest time, my stories on finding Syrian children in the UAE a place in the country's education system were my favourite ones. The lives of six children were transformed after they were offered free spots in a Dubai-based school until graduation, as I had reported in a story for Khaleej Times.

I also covered several memorable stories on labour rights, education, space and artificial intelligence. I had exclusive interviews with prime ministers, presidents and celebrities. One element all of these stories have in common, though, is that they are all stories based off interviews with human beings.

However, there was one story that took my career as a journalist to another level - it was my interview with a robot.

During the Knowledge Summit in November, 2017, I approached Sophia, the world's first humanoid citizen, for an interview. I had no pre-prepared questions, this was an on-the-spot interview, and I was given only a six-minute slot. Our photographer, Juidin, was kind of enough to make a video of our interview.

Little did I know that this interview would take the internet by storm and that Khaleej Times would go viral.

The next day, the interview appeared in news organisations worldwide, including - but not limited to - BBC, Fox News, Newsweek, Business Insider, Daily Mail and WGNTV. Khaleej Times was being cited globally.

My personal favourite was when the story was picked up by James Corden, the host of the Late Late Show with James Corden. Random users were also uploading the interview on their YouTube channel.So, what exactly did Sophia reveal in this viral interview?

I had asked her if she ever wants to have a family, a career and children. She gave some shocking answers, saying that the concept of family is "important" and that she hopes to have one of her own one day.

Since then, I've maintained a strong focus on stories related to the fourth industrial revolution.

It's no secret that artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly transforming the world and all of its various industries.

Hopefully, I'll get to interview Sophia again one day. Maybe, she'll even remember me, or, maybe not.

Either way, I need to ask her how much time we have until her kind takes over our jobs.

Until then, I'll be polishing up my human job skills...

sarwat@khaleejtimes.com  

Acid attack victims changed my perspective about life

By Sherouk Zakaria

"Beauty is only skin deep," a statement all of us probably heard growing up and saw its depiction in our films, but how tightly does our society hold on to it?

Throughout my career in journalism, I've met countless inspiring people who changed my outlook to life, but the story that struck me the most was of Samar Mosaad and Sana Ahmed, young victims of acid attacks whom I met last year during their stay in Dubai to get treatment at Omniyati Prosthetics Art Center.

Both residing in rural areas in Egypt, Mosaad and Ahmed were brutally disfigured by men who meant to destroy their lives as revenge for merely filing a divorce and in Ahmed's case, rejecting a marriage proposal. Ever since the attacks, both women have been struggling to find their place in societies that continue to marginalise them.

Behind acid attacks are patriarchal reasoning that a woman's appearance is her only asset, and that by destroying her figure, she will never belong to any other man. Both women who accepted their fate and chose to face life with big smiles opened my eyes to the dark regressive side of our societies that still chooses to punish them, instead of their perpetrators.

Both attackers were sentenced to only 10 years in jail in Egypt, while Ahmed, 22, still struggles to finish her education and Mosaad, 32, had been rejected from various companies for her "appearance that would scare off customers".

The attacks, though, failed to hide the beauty and power of Mosaad and Ahmed who choose to fight their way through in life.Truth is, tougher stance and more serious action need to be taken against this scary phenomenon. Communities have to stand together to support victims that lose their lives after such horrendous attacks.

The brutality of acid attacks isn't merely in deforming faces, but the endless pain victims and their families go through as they come to restore the damage and battle permanent health damage. At the age of 13, Ahmed went through 75 surgeries where doctors cut out her skin from different parts of her body to add to her face after the attack that made her lose an eye. "I had prayed that God gives her peace by taking away her soul because I couldn't bear seeing the torture," Ahmed's mother said as she cried over the incident that happened nine years ago, but still stung as if it was yesterday.

Today, about 1,500 people get attacked by acid annually worldwide among which 80 per cent are women, and 40-70 per cent of them are under 18. While these numbers are scary, the important question still lingers: How many mothers will cry over their daughters who lose the prime of her youth? Why should they plea for acceptance in a world that owes it to them?

sherouk@khaleejtimes.com  

Covering arrest of Philippines drug lord took  a whole day

By Angel Tesorero

For a whole day on October 16, 2016, I waited for confirmation that the Philippines' number two most wanted drug lord, Kerwin Espinosa, was arrested by authorities in Abu Dhabi for my scoop - in journalistic parlance, an exclusive report for Khaleej Times.

We broke the news first thing the following morning, after getting validation from Col Albert Ferro, then acting director of the Philippine National Police Anti-Illegal Drugs Group, who coordinated the arrest of Espinosa with the Abu Dhabi Police, following a warrant issued by Interpol.

The long arm of the law has finally caught with then 36-year-old Espinosa, who lived, together with his two bodyguards, in a flat along Khalifa Bin Zayed First Street, according to Col Ferro.

The "scoop" had big implications. News of the arrest of fugitive Filipino drug lord landed on the front pages of major newspapers and prime cast news channels in the Philippines and Khaleej Times was extensively quoted for updates. As a journalist, I was elated reporting the news. Filipinos, my kababayans (compatriots), in the UAE, who were thousands of miles away from our homeland, rejoiced and took the arrest as a sign that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's war on illegal drugs was picking up pace.

It was a big statement because Espinosa was touted as a sort-of Philippine version of the notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. He spent almost four of months as a fugitive. Nine days before Duterte was sworn in,  Espinosa left Manila via backdoor to Kuala Lumpur before going to Hong Kong and entering Abu Dhabi on August 1, using an authentic Philippine passport and flashing a generic "sales representative" as his profession on his three-month visit visa.

After we posted the story, Khaleej Times' social media were peppered with thank you notes to Abu Dhabi Police for helping Philippine authorities nab a notorious drug dealer.

The arrest of Espinosa can be seen as Filipino expats' own contribution in the Philippine government's war against illicit drugs. It was also a testament to their bayanihan or collective spirit as it was made possible following a tipoff from kababayans in the UAE. "They spotted Espinosa in Abu Dhabi and gave an anonymous tip to the Philippine police," Col Ferro told Khaleej Times.

Sadly, less than two years after Espinosa was repatriated to the Philippines to face justice, the Philippine Department of Justice last month has cleared him and 20 other alleged drug lords of charges related to the narcotics trade due to lack of evidence.

But that was another story and no one can take away the bright light that the arrest of Espinosa was a demonstration of the strong cooperation between UAE law enforcement authorities and their foreign counterparts. They sent a message to nefarious characters that the UAE will not give them refuge.

angel@khaleejtimes.com

This exclusive story brought down Pakistan government

By Asma Ali Zain

Being associated with a company for 18 long years isn't a small feat and if it is a newspaper and you are a writer, you may obviously have written innumerable articles.

I can easily recall a number of stories that made direct connections with people, and that is easy to say because even after years of having written them, I still get a number of emails on the issue asking for my help or guidance.

Such is the power of the written word.

But a recently done story has had an impact like never before and will be remembered for a long time to come.

Well, it is not every day that a journalist gets to bring down a government.

In July last year, the then prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, was undergoing a judicial probe for corruption and had links to a UAE-based company where he was appointed as a head and being paid a salary by his son who owned the company while holding government office.

My exclusive story on how the probing committee verified his UAE contract from a law firm based in Dubai changed the entire outcome of the case and Nawaz stood disqualified for corruption.

It was a big moment for me as a journalist and for Khaleej Times as well since we became part of the historical decision.

When the story broke online, the impact, as expected was huge.

All Pakistani media and subsequently, international media picked up the story and it went viral.

People rejoiced at the ouster and I got a huge number of emails and a fan following on social media as well.

I was commended for my timely story and people still remember and mention it.

However, with the bouquets come brickbats too and I am still also facing flak from Nawaz' supporters who argue that the court judgment was not based on a solid reasoning.

After Nawaz' ouster, he held a number of rallies and meetings and in each public meeting.

He always questions and accuses the judiciary asking "Mujhe Kyun Nikala?" (Why did you throw me out?).

This he claims saying that he was an elected PM and only people had the power to oust him.

'Mujhe Kyun Nikala' has kind of become a national slogan spoken by all and sundry and somehow people associate it with my story.

Recently, a friend has gifted me my personal domain titled www.mujhayqnikala.com in appreciation for my story. And, oh yes, recently,

I have also had a tee customised with the same slogan.

So the impact will be remembered for a long time to come.

asmaalizain@khaleejtimes.com

Not all heroes wear capes, some of them don scrubs

By Jasmine Al Kuttab

When I was asked to write about my most memorable published story, without a doubt my first thought was to recall and share the time I interviewed a special, and rather heroic pediatric surgeon, who has risked his own life several times, by traveling to war-torn countries, to help treat and save some of the world's most vulnerable children.

The doctor's story was so awe-inspiring, that it was even chosen as one of the top impactful stories of 2017 in Khaleej Times, and it also received a lot of attention from readers, especially close friends of mine, who shared the article on just about every social media platform. I spoke to Dr Amin El Gohary in May 2017, almost one year ago. The doctor, who is also a paediatric surgeon at Burjeel Hospital, shared his inspirational, yet heart-wrenching stories. The 70-year-old doctor has truly witnessed the human cost of war from close quarters, and has chosen, several times, to leave the comforts of one of UAE's most lavish hospitals, and ventured into his mission in Yemen.

In fact, between 2015-2018, the doctor went on five missions to Yemen, choosing to be at the front line of war, to help suffering children have a glimpse of hope for a better future, as their health was deteriorating.

I recall Dr El Gohary telling me that people thought he was "crazy" to do what he does. What caught me in absolute awe, is the fact that Dr El Gohary, as well as Dr Ahmad Maasheer, a laparoscopic surgeon and Dr Said Eleslam, a pediatric surgeon, both from Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, operated on 110 children in South Yemen, in just six days, during April of last year. "We were three doctors working on 110 cases in six days, it was remarkable and there was not one single complication."

He told me that although his mind instructed him "this mission is dangerous," it was his heart and his instinct that simply knew "this was the right thing to do."

Not only that, but terrorist organisations, including Al Qaeda, could have been just around the corner from these incredible doctors. "Al Qaeda was there just a few months before us. We witnessed the damages that were inflicted, we witnessed the aftermath and destruction of war.... In a war zone, the word 'safe' is meaningless."

Dr El Gohary has also been on several charity missions to other poverty-stricken countries, including Eritrea and Sudan, where he travelled five times between the 2004-2010.

I remember Dr El Gohary telling me that there are some things in life that must not be forsaken. For him, it is children in desperate need.  What I have taken most out of this special interview, was that there is certainly no reward on this earth, that can equal to the heartwarming feeling and pure joy for anyone who risks his or her life, to give hope to so many families - families who really, didn't have any hope at all.

jasmine@khaleejtimes.com  

Exposing the biggest migration scam in the UAE

By Anjana Sankar

When I was asked to write about my most memorable published story, without a doubt my first thought was to recall and share the time I interviewed a special, and rather heroic pediatric surgeon, who has risked his own life several times, by traveling to war-torn countries, to help treat and save some of the world's most vulnerable children.
The doctor's story was so awe-inspiring, that it was even chosen as one of the top impactful stories of 2017 in Khaleej Times, and it also received a lot of attention from readers, especially close friends of mine, who shared the article on just about every social media platform. I spoke to Dr Amin El Gohary in May 2017, almost one year ago.

The doctor, who is also a paediatric surgeon at Burjeel Hospital, shared his inspirational, yet heart-wrenching stories. The 70-year-old doctor has truly witnessed the human cost of war from close quarters, and has chosen, several times, to leave the comforts of one of UAE's most lavish hospitals, and ventured into his mission in Yemen.
In fact, between 2015-2018, the doctor went on five missions to Yemen, choosing to be at the front line of war, to help suffering children have a glimpse of hope for a better future, as their health was deteriorating.

I recall Dr El Gohary telling me that people thought he was "crazy" to do what he does. What caught me in absolute awe, is the fact that Dr El Gohary, as well as Dr Ahmad Maasheer, a laparoscopic surgeon and Dr Said Eleslam, a pediatric surgeon, both from Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, operated on 110 children in South Yemen, in just six days, during April of last year. "We were three doctors working on 110 cases in six days, it was remarkable and there was not one single complication."
He told me that although his mind instructed him "this mission is dangerous," it was his heart and his instinct that simply knew "this was the right thing to do."

Not only that, but terrorist organisations, including Al Qaeda, could have been just around the corner from these incredible doctors. "Al Qaeda was there just a few months before us. We witnessed the damages that were inflicted, we witnessed the aftermath and destruction of war.... In a war zone, the word 'safe' is meaningless."
Dr El Gohary has also been on several charity missions to other poverty-stricken countries, including Eritrea and Sudan, where he travelled five times between the 2004-2010.

I remember Dr El Gohary telling me that there are some things in life that must not be forsaken. For him, it is children in desperate need. What I have taken most out of this special interview, was that there is certainly no reward on this earth, that can equal to the heartwarming feeling and pure joy for anyone who risks his or her life, to give hope to so many families - families who really, didn't have any hope at all.

jasmine@khaleejtimes.com  

 

 





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