For all of us, 2011 will have been significant in different ways. In Dubai, the past 12 months have given us new hotels, exquisite restaurants, fascinating museums and new world records – yes, the world’s largest doner kebab. Joking aside, the city and its residents have made some impressive achievements over the past year. We spoke to three people who show that Dubai is still a haven for the ambitious and the determined: there are more selfless souls out there than you might have thought.
Atte Miettienen, 36, Finnish
A telecoms executive based in Dubai for nearly five years, Miettienen has always had a thirst for adventure, and had been climbing mountains in his spare time for eight years before he decided to attempt all seven summits – the highest mountain on each of the seven continents – as a personal challenge. ‘I’ve always been the sort of person who loves to test myself,’ he explains of his compulsion to take up the endeavour. ‘Once you finally stand on the summit of a mountain and look down, there’s something intoxicating about that feeling, and you want to do another.’ Asked whether he felt apprehensive about taking a sabbatical from work (which could be viewed by some as risky in the current economic climate), Miettienen says he ‘actually felt quite calm about it.’
This year he scaled two of the seven peaks: Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia in May, followed by Vinson Massif in Antarctica, his third and fourth climbs in total. Each of the mountains posed a different challenge. ‘Elbrus in Russia, the highest mountain in Europe, is challenging because the area is so politically unstable. There are always Russian troops there,’ he explains. Carstensz Pyramid, he says, is tough due to its remote location – ‘you trek for 100km through the jungle just to get to the mountain’. And though Vinson Massif as a climb isn’t too difficult, the mountain poses a different obstacle. ‘The remoteness and the weather make it tricky. It’s -35°C on a good day.’
By the beginning of 2012, Miettienen will have climbed Aconcagua in Argentina, leaving him with two mountains left – and he will attempt Mount Everest first. He has already had what he describes as ‘an uncomfortable phone call’ with his father and conversation with his wife about what should be done with his body if he doesn’t survive the climb, but he is still eager to make the attempt. ‘This is an exciting project for me, and I hope it inspires people in Dubai to pursue their own goals. This shows that when you set yourself a goal and you have enough determination to pursue it, you can go after anything.’
Lola Lopez, 36, British-Spanish
Since establishing local charity organisation Volunteer in Dubai in 2008, Lopez has seen her network of volunteers grow every year, and in 2011 they became more essential than ever.
This year, Volunteer in Dubai has launched Braille Books for the Blind, painting scheme Colour 4 a Cause, Hair for Hope (a hair-collecting scheme to make wigs for cancer patients), Helping Hands, Pass the Glass and a beach clean-up as part of the Ozone campaign, as well as relaunching clothes collection charity Aid in Motion. Most recently, four Pass the Glass events handed out a total of 48,000 glasses of water to labourers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
In the past 12 months, the organisation doubled the number of events it organised compared with 2010, hosting more than 400. ‘We were doing three events a week on average last year; this year we’ve done about seven each week,’ Lopez explains. She’s adamant this couldn’t have been achieved without the 27,039 man hours devoted by her volunteers. ‘Many of them have become senior volunteers, so they’ve been able to take on team-leading roles at events when I’m not there,’ she explains.
Despite only having one corporate sponsor, Aramex, Lopez regularly finds volunteer events 100 per cent over-subscribed, and the goal for 2012 is to seek more sponsorship to continue growing the number of charities and schemes the organisation supports, as well as rebranding as Volunteer in the UAE to combine her Dubai and Abu Dhabi operations. ‘I want to solidify everything and allow people to volunteer across the UAE, not just in their respective cities.’
For more information, call 04 452 1106 or see visit www.volunteerindubai.com
The career climber
Stephan Schupach, 42, Swiss
With 16 years of hospitality experience behind him and recent stints as resident manager of Jumeirah Emirates Towers, followed by general manger of Al Qasr and Dar Al Masyaf [in the Madinat Jumeirah], Schupach was a natural fit to become general manager of Jumeirah’s newest hotel on the Palm, the Zabeel Saray. Since opening in January, the hotel has already entered TripAdvisor’s top 50 hotels in Dubai, won a World Travel Award for its spa (which houses the largest hammam in the Middle East) and hosted 1,000 cast and crew members to film scenes for Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.
Was it daunting to host such a large project with so many demands? ‘It was natural for us – we deal with high-end customers all the time, so we’re used to having to be very protective. It wasn’t unusual; we know how to keep things confidential. That’s a big part of working in this business,’ he explains, noting ‘there were other destinations that didn’t manage that’.
While some may have been stressed over hosting such a project, Schupach was more likely to be losing sleep over teacups. ‘One of the biggest challenges of the hotel’s soft opening was getting everything shipped to Dubai in time – tables, chairs, linen, coffee cups, sun loungers…’ It’s this attention to detail that means for him, a year on, the hotel is still ‘only 80 per cent there’. The new year will be about fine-tuning the look and feel, as well as the service, though like any general manager he admits to having ‘aggressive goals’ – his aim is to position the hotel as one of the best luxury resorts in the Middle East.
Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, Palm Jumeirah, www.jumeirah.com (04 453 0000)