A meet­ing of minds in Dubai

Friday - - Society Living Leisure -

Cal­i­for­nia, worked as its dance teacher and chore­og­ra­pher. She also con­tin­ued to hone her tal­ent at help­ing peo­ple smile through chal­leng­ing cir­cum­stances.

The 38-year-old, who this year was named first run­ner-up in Philly Ara­bia’s Most In­spir­ing Woman in the GCC award, was then of­fered a chance to move to Dubai early in 2008. She says that be­fore leav­ing, she spent some time in New York City with her fam­ily in­clud­ing her great aunt, who was in a nurs­ing home. “Vis­it­ing her was one of my sad­dest mo­ments. Many pa­tients at the nurs­ing home were lonely and I knew I had to do some­thing to change that.”

So dur­ing Christ­mas 2007, a time when Mina felt pa­tients would be at their loneli­est, she de­cided to create a show, not only for her great aunt’s res­i­den­tial home but for 20 other se­nior cit­i­zen cen­tres in the city.

The vol­un­tary tour aimed to give the old and of­ten-alone res­i­dents a mo­ment to for­get their cir­cum­stances and to laugh.

“I started writ­ing jokes and tap dance rou­tines,” she re­mem­bers. “The older gen­er­a­tions re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate dance. I mod­elled it af­ter a talk show, with Au­drey Heart­burn as the host. I in­cluded an ex­er­cise seg­ment so it wasn’t just en­ter­tain­ment. They loved it and af­ter the show we would al­ways stay and have one-on-one time with them, visit their rooms – just make sure they were heard.” When Mina ar­rived in Dubai early in 2008 much of her time was spent over­com­ing the daily hur­dles of at­tempt­ing to set up the coun­try’s first lo­cal com­edy com­mu­nity. “It was chal­leng­ing,” she says, “be­cause com­edy is known to be vul­gar, dirty and male ori­en­tated. It took time for peo­ple to un­der­stand that I wanted to do [clean] com­edy and that it could be funny without be­ing vul­gar.”

Her strug­gle was eased to some ex­tent just four months af­ter ar­riv­ing in the coun­try. A chance en­counter with a man who shared the same vi­sion for a com­edy com­mu­nity within the emi­rates meant the two could join forces to edge the coun­try into po­si­tion as a fron­trun­ner in re­gional com­edy. “The two of us to­gether was such a great bal­ance,” she says of her­self, the ex­pat woman, and her fu­ture hus­band Ali Al Sayed, the Emi­rati man. “It was ex­actly what we were try­ing to achieve, our goal to­gether was to bridge the gap and use com­edy to bring peo­ple of dif­fer­ent re­li­gions and fi­nan­cial means to­gether.”

With re­sound­ing suc­cess the cou­ple have been tan­ta­mount in the com­edy boom that has taken place in the UAE over the past few years and that achieve­ment en­abled them to turn their at­ten­tion to art for a cause. Draw­ing on her pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence in clown­ing in the com­mu­nity in the US, the pair de­cided to form the CWC. Ini­tially they con­cen­trated on sec­tors of the com­mu­nity they felt had the most need and were ac­ces­si­ble.

Mina says, “It was very ev­i­dent that there were many cen­tres for chil­dren with spe­cial needs, and sup­port groups, so we reached out to them.” Over the past five years CWC has vis­ited, per­formed and led work­shops at a host of cen­tres for chil­dren and young adults, es­pe­cially those with spe­cial needs.

Their pri­mary fo­cus to be­gin with was Dubai’s Al Noor Cen­tre; Senses Res­i­den­tial and Day Care for Spe­cial Needs; and the Dubai Autism Cen­tre where, with a group of vol­un­teers, they be­gan visits putting on comedic per­for­mances, ac­tively en­gag­ing the chil­dren and spend­ing one-on-one time with each in­di­vid­ual.

“We build a re­la­tion­ship with them and we see progress,” Mina ex­plains. “We use a three-step process. The first step in­volves us per­form­ing for them so they can laugh at us and feel com­fort­able. The se­cond step is a work­shop, where we teach things like com­edy or cir­cus skills. Of­ten they don’t think they will

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