They were just two simple words but they assured Mona Al Hadrami that she was up to the enormous task that had been given to her.
“Don’t worry,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed as he set her the task of coordinating the UAE’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. And whenever she felt overwhelmed, they were the words she reached for to keep her going.
“When the whole of the UAE is relying on you, trusts you and believes you will complete the challenge, you must rise to the occasion,” says Al Hadrami.
The graduate of Abu Dhabi’s Higher Colleges of Technology is the latest to be honored by the Frontline Heroes Office for her role during the pandemic.
As the facilities director of Seha, Abu Dhabi Health Services, she was put in charge of setting up the country’s network of screening, testing and vaccination centers, and it all had to be done to a strict deadline set by the UAE leadership. She clocked up thousands of kilometers traveling around the country overseeing projects, often working with suppliers and contractors through the night.
On top of everything, the early part of the task fell during Ramadan, when Al Hadrami was fasting while out in the field working with site managers in the blazing heat.
“The work was very difficult,” she recalls. “It was the start of the pandemic and global lockdowns made securing medical equipment a big challenge.”
Despite the extra challenges, the first drive-through testing center in Abu Dhabi was put together in just two days and was opened by the Crown Prince himself. The next day, she was instructed to set up 13 more testing centers around the country within the next 10 days.
With her team, she oversaw the construction of Covid-19 primary assessment centres in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. In the final phase of their work, the team managed a project to build vaccination hubs in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain and introduce vaccination services into national screening centers.
Her job meant Al Hadrami had to spend four months away from her family and was apart from them during Ramadan and Eid for the first time.
“My mother is sick with a chronic illness and one of my sisters has immunity problems so it was too much of a risk to be with them,” she says. “I spoke to them regularly and it meant so much to know how proud they were of me. Not being with them was incredibly difficult but my team became like my second family.”
Whenever she felt overwhelmed, she would return to the words Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed had said to her during a site visit.
“He knew the pressure we were under and told us, ‘Don’t worry.’ He gave us positive energy, a feeling that nothing is impossible, and reminded us that our efforts were recognized. We translated his words into action to keep motivated.”
Al Hadrami originally wanted to train as a mechanical or aviation engineer but instead followed her parents into the medical field and took a job with Seha, procuring and maintaining medical equipment and systems.
When she first heard about Covid-19, she was sure it would never affect the UAE. But instead of taking the vacation she had planned, she had to plunge into long meetings to plan a nationwide network of screening and assessment centers.
“At first we couldn’t imagine the design or the systems, but we worked together to devise a plan,” she says.
The deadlines were relentless but she and her team managed to meet every one of them. Looking back, Al Hadrami says she never saw herself as a frontline hero, but is proud that she was able to serve her country and her community. “It has been the opportunity of a lifetime,” she says.
And she has a message for all Emirati women. “You have to trust yourself and believe you are not alone. This country offers all the support and empowerment we need.”
Anna Pukas has reported from all over the world as a foreign correspondent for British media. She is now an editor based in Abu Dhabi.