“What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” ― Henry David Thoreau
We are indeed lucky to have people like Dr. Khawla Al Muhannadi, inspiring us and striving towards giving us a better planet to survive.
You are the President, Environment Friends Society, Leader, Bahrain Sea Turtle Rescue Team and Member of PPO, ISO 26000 for Social Responsibility. How do you carry all these responsibilities together?
That’s not all of it! The positions mentioned above are carried out on a voluntary basis, as a result of an important personal drive to raise awareness regarding environmental issues that I have felt strongly about for a long time now. I also have a regular full time job that also takes up a considerable amount of time, so I tend to be extremely busy!
My passion to make a difference helps me to to sustain such a frenetic lifestyle; without this motivation it wouldn’t be possible. Sometimes you wish there were more hours in the day! An example of how busy it can get is when I was the Bahraini expert for social responsibility for ISO26000. We participated in four international conferences to discuss and draft an international document setting the standards for social responsibility. Each conference involved a number of daily meetings, beginning early in the morning all the way through to the evening, and sometimes even running till midnight to resolve differences on a range of issues. Not all countries have an elected member in the ISO26000 PPO, but Bahrain does. This makes me very proud and gives me more motivation, strength and determination to work towards achieving even more. But while doing that, all other responsibilities have also to be taken care of. Establishing ‘The Little Environmentalists Programme’ and ‘The REEM Program, for Children for Positive Change’ is an achievement that took years to manifest, and this month we celebrate its 14th anniversary.
How did you become associated with the Bahrain Sea Turtle Rescue Team?
I was responsible for establishing the team when I realised there was a desperate need for such an organisation in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Sea turtles have been dying in Bahrain’s coastal areas for a number of years, and this is mainly due to a lack of awareness. In 2003 we started a general awareness campaign to educate a range of the population, with a special focus on those who are directly involved with marine habitats. 2013 was a very important year, as we launched our rescue operations to directly help injured and sick turtles by providing the necessary treatment combined with the correct techniques for managing these animals in high stress environments.
It was a phone call that I received from a wonderful lady (Gaye Bentham) from Amwaj informing me that there was a sick turtle that was floating for several hours and no one seemed to know what to do. When I received the call, I needed to know only two things from her; if the turtle was still alive and if she can wait by her till the first member of EFS team arrived. This was the very first time we conducted a rescue operation of this kind, and there was no official team or protocol in place. But by utilising locally based experts, facilities and organisations we quickly put a plan into action to save the turtle. My participation in several workshops and training seminars regarding sea turtle conservation in locations including Florida were extremely valuable in this situation. All the pieces fell into place very quickly, and it wasn’t long before we had her in a safe and controlled environment from where we could begin diagnosis and treatment. It took us a month to bring her once again to a healthy status, and few months following that to get her back to the sea. We named her Moj and she was the inspiration to put together a formal team to save more turtles, and now we have a range of vets, fishermen, environmentalists, technicians and volunteers.
We urge individuals who see a turtle that is injured or sick to call us immediately. We frequently hear sad stories concerning people who see a sick turtle close to shore and, instead of calling us so we can provide the correct care and treatment, they just simply take her back to deep sea, which will in most cases actually accelerating her death.
If you see an injured or sick turtle, please call the Bahrain Turtle Rescue Team on 39719494 or 33774400 or 34529396. We are also contactable on Instagram, Facebook and email. Remember that if the amazing British lady Gaye did not call us on January 18th 2013, Moj wouldn’t have stood a chance!
Being with the Environment Friends Society, which is your most memorable moment as the President?
Receiving new volunteers and enjoying the love and care they have for nature – for the birds, for trees, for turtles and different creatures. The joy is tripled when those volunteers are children! One of the most joyful moments in my life is when I see the spark in the eyes of my students, REEM members, as we discuss the status of some endangered species and set a program to help them cope with the difficulties they are facing because of negative human impact. I am blessed with having this moment repeated every time new children join EFS, as well as with young men and women graduating from the REEM program and staying at EFS determining to make a difference at their universities and work places.
Another very memorable occasion was when the National Institute signed the first MoU with EFS recognising that environmental rights are essential human rights, which was compounded by the fact that it took place on Environment Friends Society’s 13th anniversary on July 12th 2013. EFS’ very first meetings were under the tree of life and at beaches, when we did not have a premise. These moments of victory and true love for our environment that founding members like me can never forget.
In 2004 a significant coral reef area in Bahrain’s Fasht Al-Adhim was under threat of being destroyed by a construction project. Despite significant odds, we stood up for our cause to defend these integral areas and never lost hope despite some serious opposition. Our efforts resulted in the government cancelling a large development project that was supposed to take place on the coral reefs of Fasht Al-Adhim, and a proposal has recently been launched by the House of Representatives to make the area a protected zone.
You stand for living beings on land and water, what makes this experience special?
The feeling that I get when I am able to help a helpless being is second to none. It is also about knowing how much these species contribute to the survival and well being of humans. I consider myself a believer of God and, as a good Muslim, it is in my teachings that Mercy is the message God sent Prophet Mohammad to convey to the worlds ( w ma arsalnaka ela rahmatan lel aalameen). That is how I understand being a good Muslim, and I want to meet God with a smile knowing that I was a messenger of Mercy on Earth. My PHD was about Islamic Ethics and Social Responsibility in Protecting the Environment. Some of my findings fall into Islamic Ethics that are actually the core principles for sustainability and conservation, such as keeping the balance by which Earth was created (Inna kula shaien khalgnahu begadar) and forbidding overuse of anything (W la Tusrifu).
You are contributing selflessly to this society, how is the society giving back to your efforts?
When legal advisors, doctors and university professors, individuals from all walks of life, Bahraini and non-Bahraini came forward to join EFS, the NGO we started as 3 young people, I knew that we will succeed and that EFS is there to stay. Respect and trust that parents show when they bring their children to be trained by me gives me a very big sense of contentment and fulfillment. The respect and love that I enjoy with my students are priceless, and in Islam this is what we call extended good deeds. I know that my life’s purpose will not stop when I die as my students will carry on what I started. When birds continue singing in the trees, I get my reward back, as nothing can make me smile in the morning no matter how hard life is, as much as those little Bahraini sparrows singing. Fishermen supported our environmental causes when the challenge was tremendous, proving to me that we are on the right track. An old man stopped my car once and asked me if I were Khawla Al-Muhannadi, and when I said yes, he said; ‘we are proud of you my daughter’ and he prayed for me. Rewards that I get from life are amazing and joyful and they remind me that God the Almighty is watching over me.