More often than not, we tend to forget how fortunate we are; blessed to be able to walk, talk and think straight. Many a time we tend to forget about those less fortunate; the mentally and physically challenged. But one Emirati man, Jalal Jamal Majid BinThaneya, has vowed never to forget, and so he has dedicated his life to conquering insurmountable-seeming challenges in order to raise awareness for those less privileged.
Khaleejesque caught up with this outstanding individual in the hope of attaining some inspiration.
What exactly got you first thinking that you needed to contribute to society in some way?
The main reason I wanted to do something, is the realization of a very vital human trait that I felt was missing. We as human beings (Especially those in my age group who are too occupied with their university and social lives) tend to forget, and need to be constantly reminded of the physically and mentally challenged; that is those less fortunate than us. It was this impulse within me that made me decide to utilise whatever physical attributes I possessed to convey my message. I believe that the people with physical and mental disabilities should be equal with us in society, not be forgotten or sidelined. My intention is to represent them during their difficult journey.
You've achieved 3 'missions' so far. Tell us a little about them.
My first mission was Walking the UAE in 2007. As far as I knew, no one had once attempted to walk through all of the 7 Emirates, and to me it seemed like a great idea to challenge myself. I raised a good amount of money as well as awareness for the Dubai Autism Centre during this mission, and while walking through the tarmac, desert, and mountains, I felt like I had achieved a lot as a 20 year old. I never imagined that I would take up a challenge of this magnitude, and after I completed the mission I became the first person to have walked through the entire United Arab Emirates. I was proud at having achieved something positive and worthwhile at a crucial point in my life.
By the end of 2007 I had been attending the gym at the Emirates Towers in Dubai and as per my routine I was there almost every day. One day I happened to come across a poster that read: ‘Vertical Challenge’; a flyer which represented a race to the top of the Emirates Towers. I didn’t take part thinking ‘That’s tough!’ but I did go home thinking deep. After a few days spent in thought I decided that I would do the same, but a 100 towers in 15 days as opposed to 1 tower in 1 day!
Naturally, I was concerned as no one seemed to have done this before, and climbing 90,000 steps was definitely not going to be easy! This time I chose to represent the Rashid Pediatric Centre in Dubai (an establishment which houses challenged children and teaches them to integrate into society’s norms), and in January 2008 I started my ascent at the Emirates Towers. 12 days later I completed my mission at the Trade Centre, and with 3 days to spare!
As you can imagine, I was exhausted after the challenge. Being restricted to confined spaces and going up and down on foot continuously from 8am until 12 midnight, was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. To date, I cannot find any evidence that anyone else has achieved this before. Months passed after my Tower Challenge, and I became depressed. I hadn’t conducted a mission, or contributed anything to my country and people for what seemed like a very long time. I was like a worthless machine going to university and meeting friends, and at that point I felt valueless.
But towards the end of 2009, I had this ‘urge’ drawing me towards The Empty Quarter (Rub Al Khali). I grew more and more fascinated with that region, and wanted to venture into the emptiness and witness for myself the hardship of the people travelling from Dubai to there. So I challenged myself to walk the entire way there. Everyone I knew was shocked at my decision to walk to one of the harshest environment on earth. I got my gear together and prepared myself for this new mission by repeating similar tactics from my 2007 walk. I set off from The Senses Centre at Jumeirah (a renowned centre for special needs), and trekked from Dubai to Abu Dhabi in one day.
I reached The Empty Quarter after 14 straight days of walking. My ending point was Umm al Hisn, and when I walked through the dark road of Hamim and passed Liwa into The Empty Quarter, I felt the true essence of life. I felt I had finally broken free and felt just a little of what people who are challenged feel like every single day of their life.
I believe I am the first to conduct such projects in the region as an Emirati and an Arab with regards to individual initiatives such as planning and executing projects to shed light on sensitive topics such as special needs in the UAE. Cumulatively I’ve covered a total of 600-650km so far.
You've certainly accomplished some impossible tasks. Is there anything new planned out in the foreseeable future?
After having completed my Tower Challenge, I had the Burj Dubai in my sights. It was still under construction at the time and after a year of waiting the recession hit and delayed the opening of the tower. So I knew I wouldn’t be climbing this tower anytime soon. But now that it’s complete, I intend on being the first person to climb the Burj Khalifa, simultaneously raising awareness for a cause.
I can’t disclose any details as of now, but this will happen soon Insha’Allah. Also, after I graduate from university I plan on walking from my house to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Again, to raise awareness for another cause. I want my life to be filled with projects and missions, because we will all die one day and see our life pass before us. Why not make our lives worth looking at? Why must we live this life as though it’s the only world we will live in? We’re all taking a journey. This world was never meant to last forever, and we must take care of it by contributing to society and being the best that we can be.
What message would you like to send across to the region when it comes to giving back to the community and helping those in need?
You don’t have to be a victim to represent victims. I am not physically disabled nor am I mentally challenged, but that doesn’t mean I have no responsibility towards my community. Every year I’ve made it a point to do something for them.
I believe we should all stop forgetting hardship and reflect on how we can deal with them instead. We can’t reshuffle problems so we have to solve them. I can’t change the world’, but maybe I have changed one person’s life and perception. We must start one step at a time.
To learn more about Jalal Bin Thaneya and his past and upcoming ventures, you can visit www.binthaneya.com
– Shaahima Fahim
Images: Ayham Photo