Dr Zulekha Daud first arrived in UAE in the summer of 1964. She had never even heard of Dubai until a few weeks before she arrived. More than half a century later, Dr Daud today is better known by the nickname Mama Zulekha. She has singlehandedly delivered more than 10,000 children and founded two hospitals. She is one of the Arabian Gulf’s most influential Indians, largely due to her work in the region and in her native city of Nagpur, Maharashtra.

The doctor came with a few belongings to Dubai. There, she began her practice as the first Indian female doctor in the Trucial States, as the United Arab Emirates were earlier known. On June 25, the doctor was honoured in New Delhi for her varied contributions to the Gulf by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation and son of the UAE’s Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed. She is one of several foreign nationals to be recognised as part of the Year of Zayed celebrations organised by the Foreign Ministry’s Office of Public and Cultural Diplomacy.

Dr Daud arrived in Dubai in her mid-twenties. She had previously worked at the American Mission Hospital in Kuwait with her husband. When the posting was first suggested, Dr Daud and her husband had never heard of Dubai. Dubai was considered developed in  comparison to Sharjah.

Soon after her arrival, her hospital opened a branch in Sharjah. Dr Daud was the only doctor who volunteered to work in the neighbouring emirate. She was equipped with little more than her Arabic and a few simple medicines and instruments. The doctor worked from 4.30 am until after dark, treating everything from fingers pierced by fish hooks to children who had swallowed kerosene out of thirst

“Dr Zulekha has really adapted to the enormous transformations in the UAE,” said Al Duwaisan, who recorded Dr Daud’s oral history for Binary States, a publication on the tight relationship between India and the UAE.

Wearing many hats

“She had to wear many hats, dealing with all sorts of medical situations, including home births, snake bites, bone fractures, smallpox, pneumonia and circumcision. At the time, she had few diagnostic tools and depended on her intuition to interpret ‘signs and symptoms’.”

Her reputation spread like wildfire and people even travelled from Muscat for treatment.

Dr Daud delivered children in all conditions. She once delivered a woman’s baby in the front of a car during the Hajj pilgrimage. “I took out my sari, tore it up, tied up the cord and took her to hospital,” she said in Binary States. “I have to save people. I couldn’t say, ‘I don’t know you, go away now’.”

In 1992, Dr Daud founded the Zulekha Hospital in Sharjah. She later opened a sister hospital in Dubai and three medical centres and three pharmacies. In 2004, she set up a vocational centre and charitable trust in Nagpur which continues her humanitarian campaigns.

“We have been working on rural development projects in India where we worked towards improvements in facilities and hygiene initiatives and also empowering girls’ education,” said Dr Daud, who was born in 1938. “In the UAE, we work with all charitable institutes to reach the needy … and provide accessible and affordable medical services to them.”

She expressed her gratefulness for the award. “The award is an absolute honour for me and I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Sheikh Abdullah,” she said. “The UAE Government has always appreciated my work and this inspires me to do more for the nation. The people and its Rulers have been very welcoming, generous and motivated my endeavours, which gives me strength.”

She has even provided members of the Royal Family with medical care and fondly recalled the hospitality of the late Ruler. “Such a humble soul he was and the same care and compassion is seen today in the people of the UAE,” she said.

The ceremony showed the long-standing relationship between the UAE and India.

“The love and appreciation from the people I help keeps me going to do more for them because giving makes me happy,” she said.“They all call me Mama Zulekha and that is the best feeling ever, to be upheld in the capacity of a mother.” she told the media.

Picture Credit: The Gulf Today

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Apoorva Lamba is an intern with SheThePeople.Tv     

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