Local Heroes

In this month’s cover story, we shine a spotlight on ordinary individuals who are doing extraordinary things, pushing boundaries and making Qatar proud. From those who have turned devastating medical diagnoses into opportunities to help themselves and others to passionate conservationists, animal rescuers and social welfare advocates, these local heroes are going the extra mile to make a difference.

The Warrior

A passionate member of Doha Dragons dragon boat team, following a bilateral mastectomy due to breast cancer in 2014, Sandee formed Doha Wireless Warriors, a community dragon boat group for cancer survivors, supporters and all community members who want to learn a new sport, be on the water, become part of a community and have fun while challenging themselves to do something new.
She says: “I had started dragon boating after my first breast cancer event while I was home in Canada and it was instrumental in my healing and recovery. I wanted women in Qatar to experience the same thing and to have a post-surgery activity that would help them regain their health, confidence and strength! We are the only team in the region and are a part of the IBCPC (International Breast Cancer Paddling Commission) as well as the IDBF (International Dragon Boat Federation).
“I think it is invaluable to be with other people who know how you feel…how hard it can be for many people to feel capable of trying new things again.”
Initially, the group would borrow boats but about six years ago they bought their own pink boat and members all proudly sport hot pink T-shirts. When they race, they also wear wigs to represent their cancer battles and build awareness.
As well as the dragon boat team, Sandee also started a breast cancer WhatsApp support group which now has members all around the world from Qatar to South Africa and Lebanon to Wales. Many of the members have never met but it’s a resource to get information and support. She also speaks at public events and the group hosts workshops.

The Baby Steps Runner

Coach Mo, as he is known, is a dad of two and fellow cancer survivor who was involved with the Wireless Warriors but, when Covid struck and the only outdoor activity that could be done at a safe distance, he and Dr Soha Raslan founded the Baby Steps Marathon. Launched in April 2021, the idea of the initiative is that, while not everybody can, or even wants to, run a marathon, most people can run (jog or walk) a kilometre. And doing that every day, participants will eventually cover the distance of a marathon.
Baby Steps Marathon formed an online community with thousands of members and has since gone international with runners logging in as far afield as Egypt, Jordan and Jerusalem. Members get e-certificates and medals to mark their achievements as well as the support of their virtual and local counterparts.
In October 2022, Mo, Soha and their team created the Move Initiative aimed at people who can’t run but want to take ownership of their own fitness and well-being. It encourages participants, regardless of age and ability, to move for 30 minutes a day, which has been shown to have really positive health effects.
Mo himself as since completed three actual half marathons this year and is currently training for a half Ironman, which will see him swimming 1.8km, cycling 90km and running a half marathon and he is full of stories of other people who have gone on to complete feats such as pull-up and push-up challenges, long distance runs and more.
With the Baby Steps community he is determined to show people that virtually anyone can improve their life and fitness levels saying: “Do you want to live a healthy lifestyle whatever your age and health condition? Then join Baby Steps Marathon or the Move Initiative and remember, whatever happens in your life, keep moving!”

The Social Leader

Having been diagnosed with an aggressive tumour, Claire made the move from Korea to Qatar to be nearer her family in Europe while undergoing treatment. She took up a position at the Swiss International School of Qatar to lead citizenship projects having worked with Futures Foundation’s Global Social Leaders (GSL), a movement to enable young people to change the world for the better through social action and personal development, since 2020. GSL runs an annual competition which has, so far, involved more than 10,000 young people from across the globe doing amazing things to help others. Students work in groups to select a United Nations Sustainable Goal and create a project to address it within their communities, conducting research and needs analysis and measuring impact.
Clair explains: “During Covid, I wanted to break the narrative that young people must hide and cannot make a difference in society. Even though we were in lockdown, my grade sixes created a biodiversity garden. In 2021, the children transformed the garden into a Quranic garden and, the following year, we developed an international medical garden.
“Students used plants from around the world to make natural dyes and skincare that didn’t contain puberty blocking carcinogens and didn’t pollute the oceans. We reached the semi-finals of the GSL competition and we were invited to speak to HE Sheikha Al Mayassa Al Thani and the Minister of Education.
“We now partner with Qatar Museums to preserve oral Bedouin medical history and protect the bees. We now have six species of bees in our garden. The students have also published their research in an online magazine with 10,000 readers. Over two billion people worldwide rely on medicinal plants that they grow themselves and students were sharing oral history from Pakistan, Syria and Palestine which we fact checked. We then grew the plants in our garden.”
And last year, Claire’s students went even further winning the GSL competition with a project that’s making a difference in countless lives. The youngsters realised they were (unconsciously) discriminating against the cleaning staff from Nepal and the Philippines because they were illiterate and not confident to speak to students. At first, students decided to do things for the cleaners. They decided to grow veg for them. Pretty soon, they learnt that the cleaners knew more about gardening then they did! The cleaning staff began planning a curriculum together with Claire and with young participants learning the medical value of sweet potato leaves, moringa and mango leaves.
Claire continues: “We also started teaching pre-k and Islamic studies in primary to empower the next generation. Even though most of our teams were illiterate, students learned that intelligence comes in many forms. Little ones have excellent observation skills to spot insects and the cleaners were plant experts. They learned that equality means doing things WITH the community and not FOR the community.
“We now have a medical madrasa built by children for children with a plant hospital for sick plants. We teach children from three years to students preparing for medical school. The discriminated communities manage the project and we share the food that is grown.”
And not content with all that, Claire’s young and her young charges work with Education Above All to help students in conflict zones and collaborate with the Ministry of Education to save sea turtles.

The Volunteer

Wanting to travel the world, Kristina came to Qatar in 2008, as a music teacher at Doha British School. But there was another reason too. She says: “The number one reason was because I was looking for a better climate following a Rheumatoid Arthritis diagnosis in 2005. I had two years of being almost bedridden as I couldn’t walk due to the pain and inflammation. Being a dancer and musician, I thought at the time my life was over. My hands were curled up and stuck and I couldn’t even dress myself.”
And gratitude for medicated recovery led her to some awesome adventures during which she not only helped herself but others too. A big fan of Latino dancing, she decided to head to South America to undertake community work in the form of an organised trip to Peru to help older people who didn’t have family to support them.
At a community centre, she and other volunteers did handicrafts with the elders for them to sell. They also visited those who were too frail to reach the centre, which really opened Kristina’s eyes. She explains: “This was difficult to comprehend when you saw some of the huts they lived in. They literally had nothing but would welcome you with open arms anyway. I remember getting upset thinking what if this were my parents? How are there people living like this in the 21st century? But that is why we volunteer, to make what may seem like a small difference in someone’s life, when in fact it’s worth more than any amount of money.”
She returned for a different South American adventure the following year and then, in 2016, decided to undertake India’s famous Rickshaw Challenge – 12 cities in 14 days driving a bright pink and blue rickshaw! The event raises funds for Indian charities which help children access education and Kristina decided she also wanted to benefit Dementia UK since her father suffers from the disease – she and her driving partner won the prize for raising the most cash.
One of Kristina’s most memorable moments from the journey is being pulled over on a motorway (where rickshaws are not allowed) by a man who turned out to be the headmaster of a local school. Despite losing race time, he begged them to come and speak to his pupils and, believing it’s the little moments that make memories, they agreed.
Since then, Kristina has married and settled down in Qatar but she is still very much involved in community activities raising funds for cancer charities both here and in the UK. She’s also a tireless volunteer for animal welfare organisations QAWS, Qatar Tails and PAWS, rescuing strays and feeding in cat colonies on The Pearl.
Now working at the Swiss International School, she organises talent shows and the school production to raise money for adopted charity Education Above All and Al Fakhoora who work to give children who live in areas of conflict, access to education. And she’s very active as a director with The Doha Players.
Asked what makes her keep going above and beyond the call of duty, she explains: “I think, when you go through something yourself and come out the other side, it makes you think of others less fortunate. I like to make people feel happy and I believe if you do good then it will come back to you too.”

The Animal Rescuer

Ardent animal lover and advocate Sarah first came to Qatar in 2012, she left at the end of 2017 but missed it so much, she returned in 2022 to work in leadership development for Qatar Energy.
But, that’s the day job. On evenings, weekend and holidays, you’ll often find her engaged in animal rescue saying: “As all rescuers know, it is a never-ending task.”
Sarah had always loved animals and helped for many years through volunteering, feeding animals and helping with TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) programmes and, in 2020 she took on her own colony [the collective name for a group of stray cats]. She explains: “I was living in Abu Dhabi at the time and discovered several unneutered mums with multiple kittens. I had success in getting around 30 of them adopted, and that was just the start. Now I am part of the Qatar Tails community here in Doha: we manage multiple colonies, with a focus on TNR, rehoming and caring for animals; you can find QatarTails on Instagram and Facebook.”
Like every rescuer, Sarah has many heart-warming story but a favourite is of two kittens – one found in Abu Dhabi and the other in Dubai, both aged around five weeks and trying hard to survive. Sarah took the Abu Dhabi kitten home but soon realised he was lonely and in need of a friend. The pair were brought together and looked so alike everyone thought they were brothers. They were very quickly best pals and were eventually adopted together to a home in the UK where they are living their best life as ‘twins’.
Such is Sarah’s dedication to the cause of animal welfare that she has written a book inspired by the subject. She explains: “CAA-R 42 is the book I published last year – CAA-R stands for Crimes Against Animals – Rehabilitation; let’s just say there is not much rehabilitation going on! It’s a futuristic thriller featuring a group of young entrepreneurs, supported by leaders around the world, who hold those who purposefully harm animals to account. It was very cathartic to write given the amount of abuse we see as rescuers, though it is also written to entertain and enthrall, even if you are not as crazy about animals as we rescuers are! It’s available on Amazon for anyone who would like to take a look, under my author-name, S. Payne. Based on the reviews I’ve received so far, I’ll be writing a sequel.”
And asked about the change she would most like to see for animals in Qatar, she concludes: “Microchipping and registration of all pets. Even better if the owner must show evidence of taking the animal with them or rehoming them appropriately before they leave the country.”

The Environmentalist

Jose Daniel Saucedo Martinez came to Qatar with his wife’s job seven years. An industrial engineer consultant who also has a show on Qatar’s Spanish radio station Hola Qatar, he decided, almost straight away, that he wanted to make a contribution to the advancement of the country’s green movement and DeapQatar Conservation was born.
A volunteer organisation focussed on education, sustainability and conservation, leading the fight against plastic pollution and raising environmental awareness in Qatar, Deap started out as a group of friends hanging out at the beach ‘trying to do the right thing’. Now, seven years later, Deap has thousands of regular volunteers and conducts education, volunteerism, youth activation and empowerment. Throughout the year they organise dozens of education and awareness presentations for schools (from kindergarten to university level students), as well as for companies and government entities.
Every year Jose presents to thousands of students and mobilises them on field trips and clean-up drives across the country. To date Deap has organised more than 650 activations.
He says: “My environmental work at DeapQatar Conservation is more than a full-time job considering the amount of time, work and effort I pour into it. It is more than nice posts on social media. Behind each activity there are hours of preparation, meetings, development of materials, editing of photographic materials, management of social media pages, relationship building and responding to people’s emails and messages, to mention just some of the work that goes on behind the scenes.”
As well as his own passion for environmental preservation, Jose says his own family is also a catalyst for his activities explaining: “I have three young kids, when they grow up and realise the mess we’ve left for them, they will ask me ‘dad you saw all this happening, so what did you do?’ Devoting my life to the advancement of the green movement in Qatar will answer that question. I’m just doing what I can to help make a difference.”


Diagnosed with cancer at the age of 24, Sondra has spent years fighting the disease and living in constant pain. However, she has not let it take over her life and has achieved more than many people do in a whole lifetime. Having left her job in ICT, she became a registered nutritionist and level three strength and conditioning coach who is now training for an ultra-marathon, one of the world’s toughest challenges.
She uses the training to distract from her condition, explaining: “I am always in pain. This is due to cancer and the lasting effects of treatment. So, it does limit my mobility and obviously the fatigue makes it difficult sometimes to find the energy to train. That is where discipline triumphs over motivation. When I run or cycle, I feel I have some sense of control over the pain as I am ‘inducing’ it by how hard or light I train. It makes me feel less anxious about the pain as I can justify it. Reason it. When I just sit on the couch and I have pain, I know there is only one reason I have pain, and that reason is pretty scary to me.”
And, asked how she finds the strength, she says: “One evening I was rocking my then three-month-old baby to sleep. The baby that I shouldn’t have been able to conceive post chemo. I remember looking down at her thinking, ‘I would die for this little girl’. And I realised, if I would die for her, surely I should live for her too. So that’s what I try to do. “I’m 39. I’ve been fighting stage four metastatic cancer for nine years. I opened my own health business and I’m a registered nutritionist. Mum to an 11-year-old, I started cycling competitively after my diagnosis and won the Ladies Cycle league in Doha. I’m now training to run an ultra-marathon. I’m still in active treatment and have had various health setbacks and surgeries but I am still choosing to thrive rather than survive and be an example for my little girl. I also do motivational talks and workshops to raise awareness of stage four cancer and how it affects all ages.”