16 November 2018Last updated


Women we salute

As the year comes to a close, we speak to Aquarius readers about the achievements that have made them proud this year. Read on to hear their amazing stories...

By Louisa Wilkins
24 Dec 2014 | 10:00 am
  • Noora Sultan Al Saqer Al Suwaidi and Jennifer McGarrigle.

    Source:Dennis B Mallari/ANM

Noora Sultan Al Saqer Al Suwaidi

32, from uae, organised a royal event and believed in herself

“2014 was the year that i decided to take a chance on myself, by doing what I love. And many dreams came true. My business partner and I have become incredible friends and we have had such fun building the company. The highlight of my year was managing a big event for His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. That really was a special moment for me.”

Jennifer McGarrigle

35, from Ireland, has had a year beyond her expectations

“2014 has been a real roller coaster ride. On December 12, 2013 we had our official launch party at the Ritz-Carlton Dubai... I never imagined that a year later we would have had such a successful year. I’m thankful for how lucky we have been, and for all the support we have had. The highlight of the year was a wedding for the Al Nabooda family. It was so nice to be given the freedom to be so creative... they were dream clients.” Visit     


Daniela Tully

38, from Germany, has had a year that makes us feel... well, pretty lazy

“2014 was the year I stopped sounding like a broken record. After years of talking about it, I finally started writing a novel (and found an agent to publish it) and wrote a horror/thriller movie script. Having returned to Dubai after living in Los Angeles for a couple of years, I found the ideal director to helm the film and we shot a trailer. 2014 was also the year I decided to do a crowdfunding campaign for my other – and no less loved – horror film, that has Dario Argento directing and Iggy Pop playing the villain. In short, 2014 was the year I discovered that location is irrelevant – you can challenge yourself, follow your truest ambitions and achieve great things wherever you are. Last, but most definitely not least, 2014 was the year I became a mother – and that freed my mind to do so many things I thought were impossible before. Thank you, 2014! Visit


Eda Gungor

31, from turkey, has just launched a new wellbeing centre in jumeirah, life ’n one

2014 was the year I transformed – not physically, but spiritually. Life is a long bumpy ride. At times you get lost and you get tired. And sometimes you feel that the road is never-ending. This year I realised that the road doesn’t need to have an end – that it’s full of scenery that you can stop and enjoy. And every time I experience something new, I grow. I’ve learnt that the destination of our life journey is not important... What matters is the experiences we face and the people we become along the way. This is the message I want to give back to people in Dubai. Visit


Emily Christensen

36, from the UK, launched her own recruitment company – H30 International

One of my proudest achievements this year was getting 1,000 ‘likes’ overnight. I set up a Facebook page called Part-Time Jobs for Mums and Dads because I could see part-time jobs on other pages being swallowed up by posts. I hadn’t given it any thought prior to the day I set it up... I just saw a niche, asked the ladies from Facebook group British Mums in Dubai if they would use it, and went ahead. I didn’t know where it would go. But less than 24 hours later I had 1,000 likes. I was stunned! I knew there was a gap in the market, but I had no idea that so many people would be interested.


Salina Handa

36, indian-thai founder of sensasia urban spas and mum of two, is finally able to see her success

“2014 is the year I started believing in myself. I launched SensAsia Urban Spa back in 2004 out of a personal passion for pampering and, because I had no specific beauty or wellness training, I always felt like I was winging it.

“This year, the brand – now with four spas across Dubai – turns 10. The anniversary has made me stop and think about my own ability and, for the first time, consider myself as ‘established’.

“Earlier this year a friend of mine said, ‘The thing about you, is you don’t realise how good you are. You are like the Le Petite Maison of Dubai spas.’ That comparison really resonated with me and instead of shrugging off the compliment, I let it in, and really thought about it.

“It’s incredible to step outside yourself and look back in at what the world sees – overriding the finicky gripes we all have about how we operate, and actually noticing the positives. And that’s exactly what I’ve forced myself to do throughout 2014.

“How refreshing to be going into 2015 with a whole new brain!” Visit


Judith Hobby

50, from New Zealand, is a mum of two who has opened a store

“This year i opened my first store. My clothing line was going well for a small business selling online and at pop-up shops across the UAE, but there were limited growth opportunities and the next step, which was opening my own shop, was too daunting to even be a consideration. However, circumstances forced my hand and I had a choice to close, or to grow. Scary though it was, I decided that I needed to believe in myself and go for it by opening my own studio.

“I found the ideal space at Dubai Studio City and, after months of work, we opened on September 28 and I love it. It wasn’t cheap but I had to trust that I could make it work I feel really lucky to have a supportive group of friends and family. It was one of those moments in life when you think to yourself, ‘Either I go for it now, or I spend the rest of my life thinking of what might have been.’

“Now I keep dreaming about what the next step is going to be…” Visit


Ghadeer Kunna

45, a Sudanese American, battled cancer and lived to tell the tale

“This year i survived a very aggressive form of cancer. It’s the year I learned what it’s like to just fight. It’s the year I found out how strong and resilient I am, and yet how much more gentle I have become. I learned that inner strength can never be beaten. It’s the year I witnessed how, even though I am 45, my mother still sees me as her baby girl – still beautiful despite all the physical changes I went through. I knew then what a truly great woman she is. And I hope I can always be a source of pride for her. It’s the year I found out who truly cares for me, and those who are fake. I also found out what a great family I’m blessed with and what an honour it is to have them – and a few good friends – in my life. It’s the year I’m recalibrating myself – my priorities and my goals. Slowly trying to regain my strength to prepare for my PhD. It’s the year I participated in two amazing campaigns to raise awareness about breast cancer. It’s the end of a stage and the beginning of an unknown one. And as much as I’m anxious about the unknown, I’m excited to experience its endless possibilities. It’s the year that is defined by this sentence: ‘And still I rise, like a phoenix from the ashes, burning and bright.’ It’s the year I was blessed with life again.”


Jelena Vasiljevic

23, from Serbia, is a swimming instructor and athlete

“This year, i challenged myself to complete an ironman competition for the first time. I signed up for one in Zurich, Switzerland, in July and, after training five or six days a week from then on, travelled over there for the event. After completing a 3.9km swim, a 180km bike ride and a 42.2km run, to my surprise, I finished third in my age group with a time of 12h 37min. I feel very proud of my achievement. I know it is a real accomplishment – something I once thought impossible. But I’ve realised that triathlons are not about how you start, or where you finish, they are about who you are and how you strive to get better.”


Emma Brain

39, from the UK, is a radio DJ who fought off malignant melanoma

“2014 was the year of the most terrifying experience of my life. I get my moles checked every year, but nothing prepares you for when one looks ‘dodgy’, is taken off for biopsy and then you hear those dreaded words: ‘You have skin cancer’. But I consider myself very lucky.
A 10cm scar on my thigh is what I ended up with and I’m very aware it could have been much, much worse. Now living in the high risk category for future melanomas means I have to be extra vigilant when it comes to being sun safe and I shall have to embrace being ‘pale and interesting’.

“Now it is my mission to share my story and spread awareness. 2014 has taught me that I can learn so much from frightful experiences. It also made me reevaluate my lifestyle – aiming to be fitter and healthier and more able to cope with the challenges that life could throw at me. 2015? Bring it on!” Catch Emma on Radio 2 (99.3fm).


Katie Laing

41, from the UK, is a mum of four and mental health expert who helped open Camali Clinic

“Mental health has been my passion since i started nursing. In February, I was asked to present my ideas for a Child and Adolescent Mental Health service here in Dubai, to potential investors. Nervous is an understatement. In April 2014 we got the financial backing and the project came to life. There was so much to do and the plan was to open the clinic by September 2014. The project was moving at a great speed and I was trying to juggle a home and family, including a seven-month-old baby. I would send emails and write policies while my baby slept on me in his sling.

“In May, personal circumstances meant my family had to relocate to Italy. My involvement in Camali Clinic was going to come to an end. I was heart-broken as the reality dawned on me that I would never see the end result of my vision and efforts. The investors believed in me and agreed that I could continue my work, preparing the clinic for launch, from Italy.

“Packing up my home and moving was stressful. Stepping off the plane in Italy, unable to speak the language, was hard and I threw myself into my work.I worked around the clock, trying to fit it in around my family and the household chores.

“In August I returned to Dubai for the pre-operating assessment and to welcome the new staff. Camali Clinic was now built and ready to open its doors to the young people of Dubai. My work was complete. The day before leaving back to Italy, I was in tears – tears of joy for what we had achieved, and tears of devastation that I would never get to see young people benefit from the fantastic services available within the clinic.

“However, I was asked to stay to continue my work as clinic manager and therapist. With the support of my family and friends, I moved back to Dubai in September to see my dream come alive. The clinic has now been open two months and I’m delighted to say it’s flourishing. To see the young people in there and hear positive comments from their parents has made the nine months of stress and struggle well worth it. 2014 certainly was a year for me to feel proud.” Visit


Philomena Kattookaren

45, from india, is an executive assistant and dedicated single mum seeing results

“Watching my son perform on stage in front of thousands of people was a joyous moment. The crowd’s reaction and applause was a compelling testament to his performance, which was momentous. That, for me, was my proudest moment. I had tears of joy, tears of relief, tears of accomplishment. I was not just celebrating his performance – I was celebrating years of hard work and perseverance that went into ensuring he could grow up making his own choices and chasing his dreams.

“Being a parent is challenging to say the least. But being a single parent makes that job even more arduous. After my husband’s untimely death, I had to take on a full-time job. It was in many ways a new beginning and I had to start from scratch. This period of my life was the most trying, and also one of hope and fulfilment.

“It was during this time that Josh discovered his burning passion for guitar. But enthusiasm alone does not pay for music lessons, professional coaching, or instruments. That takes real money, which I have had to struggle for. While financial stress was a constant companion, it was not enough to break my spirit and resolve and instead filled me with determination to surmount all obstacles with a smile and positivity. Every day that he comes a little closer to achieving his goals, makes me so proud and I am truly grateful that I’m a part of it all.”

By Louisa Wilkins

By Louisa Wilkins