In 2003, life took Maria to Dubai, where she took up a post as a flight attendant at Emirates Airlines. She enjoyed life as cabin crew and her work took her to exciting cities all over the world. In April 2005, she took a fateful flight to the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka. Maria witnessed extreme poverty in the slums of Bangladesh, which was made even more obvious in comparison to the life of luxury enjoyed by many in Dubai.
Maria first set out to help a hospital in Dhaka. However, when they refused her help and donations she had brought from Dubai, she asked her driver to follow a group of street children to the biggest slum in Dhaka. Seeing that her offerings would not go very far there, she was taken to the smaller Gawair slum area, where she is now known by her name.
Realizing that donating clothing, food and other items alone is not enough, Maria set out to make a real and lasting change. In July 2005 she started a school for the children of 101 families that came forward to receive her help. The school, called The Dhaka Project, was a wonderful success. Apart from providing education for the children, it provided jobs for their parents, training for adults, day care for the smallest children, shops and services in the community. It bound the whole community together and provided hope and opportunity to make change for many.
Since then, Maria has been working tirelessly to finish what she started – to end the cycle of poverty for these 101 families.
When it comes to her humanitarian efforts, Maria is best known for being a pioneer. In 2010, she brought a group of slum-dwelling children to study in the UAE. All these children have now graduated from high school and are studying at universities worldwide or are in gainful employment.
Maria currently devotes herself completely to the ongoing challenge of paying for the education of the students in Dhaka. When not occupied with training or fundraising, Maria can be found typically playing the role of surrogate mother and counselor to these children, who call her ‘mother’. They have been given such an important opportunity to gain quality education and an excellent start in life, and they are so grateful.
Maria can often be found sharing her story with various audiences and she mas inspired many with her talks. Maria also spends many hours in meetings to secure sponsorship for the children and has organized and led many fundraising initiatives over the years to raise funds and awareness for Maria Cristina Foundation and to date her efforts have helped hundreds of destitute families and children in Bangladesh.
Woman Most Inspiring Career Barbie Award, 2017 GQ Woman of the Year, 2016 Cosmopolitan Female Role Model, 2015 Inspiring Change Award, 2014 Emirates Humanitarian Woman of the Year, 2009 Emirates Woman of the Year, 2009 Most Exceptional and Innovative European Woman of the Year, 2007
6 Ironmen on 6 continents in 56 days, 2017 6 times Guinness World Record Holder, 2016 7 Ultra Marathons, In 6 Weeks, In 7 Continents, 2014 7 Ultra Marathons In 7 Days, November 2014 7 Full Marathons In 7 Days, October 2014 5 Full Marathons In 5 Days In 5 States, October 2014 5 Half Marathons In 5 Days In 5 States, September 2014 First Portuguese Woman To Summit Mount Everest, 2013 Climbed Mount Elbrus, Europe 2012 Last Degree To North Pole, 2011 7 Marathons In 7 Days Across 7 Emirates, 2011 Climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa 2010
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