Walking through the doors of Murtaza Balasinourwala’s workshop in Abu Hail, you immediately get a sense of what this man is all about.
What greets you first is a huge logo on the polished concrete floor, which reads: ‘Reduce, reuse, recycle.’
The place is filled with an overpowering smell of freshly cut wood – his work material of choice – and the walls are dotted with messages of sustainability. ‘Reducing CO2 through sustainable timber harvesting,’ one poster read.
Behind his office desk is a wall full of wood offcuts, each containing another message that champions eco-friendly living. ‘Go green. There is no planet B,’ one said.
To his workers, Balasinourwala is noted as the ‘wood doctor,’ an interior designer by trade. It was back in 2012 when thousands of Damas trees were felled across the UAE that he decided to open his own workshop here. With a passion for woodwork and carving, he wanted to give new life to the uprooted trees, which otherwise would have been dumped.
‘My driving factor to be creative is when something is deemed unusable. To me, everything is usable. My drive wasn’t to make money, it was to give that waste a meaning, a life.’
While most see these trees as a menace due to the high risk of damage caused by the tree’s extensive root network, Balasinourwala said he only sees the benefits in them.
‘Human nature is such that we don’t value what we have. The wood itself is termite-free, so it’s really of good quality. It’s strong and durable and can be made into furniture, and it has a great property for carving.’
But more than just turn old wood into something that has a use, Balasinourwala has been on a mission to teach and educate others in the community about the importance of making the most out of waste before discarding it.
So much so, four of his employees are men he met through community referrals after they were left jobless. ‘My passion is to teach my trade so when I heard their story, I wanted to help them, give them an opportunity at life. I like to give new life to waste material, but helping people like this is just the same. It’s a second chance for them.’
Kirin Dominic Egana from Nigeria was the first he took on. ‘I came from Nigeria searching for a miracle – education. I saved up what I thought was enough money to study a two-year master’s course, but I ran into problems as I found out it was double the money when I landed.’
After being introduced to Balasinourwala, he came to learn carving and has since become a supervisor in his workshop. ‘He assisted me in paying my education fees, but more than that, he taught me a valuable trade, a passion that he loves to pass on to people. We call him the wood doctor.’
Like Egana, Cameroonian expats Tchakounte Prixa, William Emock Chekem and Divine Obase were all referred to Balasinourwala after being left stranded following failed job promises.
Working in different professions back home, including IT and truck driving, each was trained personally by Balasinourwala in carpentry.
But for the man they affectionately call the ‘wood doctor,’ he said it’s not about giving people money, it’s about giving people a living, an ethos which his community back in India, the Dawoodi Bohras called ‘fostering.’ And more importantly, showing people how waste – especially wood – can be given new life.