Sheikha Jawaher: Up close and personal

Estimated read time 7 min read

Sheikha Jawaher bint Abdulla Al Qasimi. JONATHAN YBERA/EXPAT MEDIA

“If your life were a movie, what would be the title?” asks Sheikha Jawaher bint Abdulla Al Qasimi in a rare interview with the fun-loving but workaholic sheikha and director of the Sharjah Media Arts for Youth and Children (FANN) and Sharjah International Film Festival (SIFF).

“The girl with jewels in her name,” Sheikha Jawaher answers, a smile on her face as we roll with the interview at her FANN office. Jawaher is Arabic for “jewels”.

Sheikha Jawaher certainly dazzles with her impeccable work ethic and down-to-earth nature, debunking a misconception that she was “raised a spoiled girl”.

“My kids say, ‘Mom, why do you work? You’re a sheikha.’ I say, because I want to give back to my country. I want to make my country proud. I want to be a part of something that contributes to the prosperity and development of this country,” Sheikha Jawaher says.

She is extremely busy, following the recent Sharjah International Film Festival. It is the biggest children and youth film festival in the UAE and the region, and is a project of FANN, an organisation established by the Sharjah Government. It is also a project that is close to her heart.

“I always loved working with children, so seeing the opportunity to do something new in the UAE, with children and with films—two things I really like—is very exciting,” Sheikha Jawaher says.

As director, she uses the festival as a platform for positive influence on the youth, as well as a medium to change global misconceptions about the Arab world. “Some people who have never been to the Middle East think we still live in tents, or have camels roaming around. They think women only stay at home, but actually we are ministers, directors, amazing mothers who juggle jobs,” she says.

Breaking conventions is nothing new to Sheikha Jawaher. She graduated high school at 15, finished a degree in English language and literature, and started working at the age of 19. She started a master’s in marriage and family therapy. She was an English teacher, a librarian, and then a coordinator before being appointed as director of FANN.

She hopes that her job as director of FANN and the Sharjah International Film Festival will help the youth, including her children, make good decisions in life through positive media exposure and informative media content. “The youth nowadays are open minded and exposed to things. We need to be on the same page,” she says.

Life as sheikha

“My father always says, ‘I am who I am, no matter what I wear, no matter what I do.’ Whether I am in jeans and t-shirt, I am still Sheikha Jawaher, or if I am in full attire, I am still the same person,” Sheikha Jawaher says, adding that her mother, who studied psychology, also had a big impact on her upbringing.

“People think I’m spoiled and always carried around. I wasn’t, and I’m actually proud of the way that I have been raised. I am hands on, and I do things on my own, as much as I can,” she says. She was 19 when she landed her first job. Her parents dropped her off to work.

“I was in school as a coordinator when one of the English teachers resigned. Because I studied English language and literature, I was asked to be a substitute teacher. I had zero experience in teaching, but I said okay,” she recalls.

“I walked into Grade 6. The students were taller than I am! So, they moved me to Grade 3. I used to stand outside and beg the teachers to help me calm down the kids. I didn’t want to scream. They didn’t listen,” she says. The first lesson she taught? “‘You are My Sunshine’. I wanted to break the ice. I wanted to be the cool, fun teacher,” she says with a grin.

Sheikha Jawaher grew up with three brothers. While the boys loved the toy store or sports shop, she preferred to hang out in a library or a book store. “My dad always said, ‘I remember looking for you and finding you on the floor with the books,” she says.

A voracious reader, Sheikha Jawaher says she has a collection of more than a thousand books that she has kept in a big bookshelf in her parents’ house. “Every book that I love, I kept it there. The books that either made me cry, or changed something in the way I think or helped me through something,” she says.

Movies and photography

Sheikha Jawaher is a self-confessed movie buff, which she says is perfect for her role in FANN and SIFF. She loves romantic films, thrillers and true stories. “I love films like Me Before You, the Emilia Clarke film. I wasn’t into action, but when I got married, my husband was into it, so I watch that with him now,” she says.

The genre she wouldn’t watch? “Horror. I can’t! It’s too stressful for me,” she says.

She also loves animated films and classic Disney movies. “My favourite is Sleeping Beauty,” she says. “I’m always more excited at Disneyland than my kids,” she says. “I love the parades and the fireworks. I’m literally the last one to get dragged to leave,” she says, amusingly.

She is a fan of TV series, like Grey’s Anatomy and The Good Doctor. She prefers watching 20-minute episodes, instead of binge watching. “It’s my me time,” she says.

Sheikha Jawaher also loved cameras and nature photography when she was a teenager. She doesn’t do as much photography as she did back then, but says she is still fascinated by it. “I learned photography on my own. Now, I make sure I have an annual photo shoot with my kids, especially when we are traveling,” she says.

She wants to open a flower shop one day. “I have always loved gift wrapping and giving gifts out of the blue. I feel that running a flower shop is very me,” she says.

Sheikha Jawaher says for now, she is focused on keeping her work-life balance. “I did give my job more time than my family because this is how I have been raised. To give 100 percent wherever I am,” Sheikha Jawaher says. “But with time you learn how to manage and the thing that made it easier for me is because I work in a field for children and youth, that my family can take part,” she says.

Sheikha Jawaher bint Abdulla Al Qasimi

Rapid fire questions

Three words to describe yourself
Social. Sensitive. Kind.

What is your hidden talent?

The way to you heart is…

Top 3 must-see places in Sharjah
Khor Fakkan, Rain Room and House of Wisdom.

Favorite English word

Word you hate hearing
“No time.”

Can you say Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?
Yes, I can! Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! And my kids now know how to do it.

Favorite subject to teach

Favorite movie

Favorite children’s movie
Matilda. No. Charlie the Chocolate Factory.

Night out or night in?
Night in.

Your favorite quote
Treat people how you like to be treated.

Your dream destination
New York in Christmas.

Book you are currently reading
The Brainstorm.

Your favorite food

Dish you cook best

What do you collect?
Magnets from all around the world.

Most expensive thing you bought
Birkin bag.

What you regret spending money on
Nothing. I’m not an over spender. I spend wisely.

What are you most looking forward to?
My future business, the flower shop.

This story also appears in the Expat Media Special Edition Magazine

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