Dubai: With her short black hair, cute smile and big brown eyes, eight-year-old Fay looks like any average little girl who does not have a worry in the world.But you would be surprised at just how far from typical she really is.
Fay is one of a group of children in the UAE who have cancer. In fact over 100 children contract this deadly disease every year in the UAE.
According to Dr Fareed Khalifa, head of the Oncology Department at Dubai Hospital, since 2008, in Dubai alone, at least 15 UAE nationals and 18 expatriate children have been diagnosed with cancer each year. The most common forms of cancer among children, he says, are leukaemia, followed by lymphoma (affecting the lymphatic system), cancer of the eye, the kidneys and the brain.
A website called ‘Lamsat Amal' (www.lamsatamal.webs.com), which means ‘Touch of Hope', offers a way of giving money specifically to help these children.
The site was launched by a group of UAE national girls from Al Ain in September 2009, including Lamya Al Darmaki, Mahra Mohammad, Ebtisam Al Suraidy, Latifa Al Daheri, Sanna Al Salami, Mona Al Eissaei and Aisha Al Darmakihas, and has already attracted more than 3,000 visitors.
Its aim is to make life more bearable for the children by attempting to make their wishes come true. It lists the names, photos and wishes of children from all over the UAE battling the disease.
So far 24 children have had their wishes come true. When asked about the inspiration for the idea, 23-year-old Lamya told Gulf News: "I believe that with the guidance of religion and culture, empathy is one of the greatest values inherited from previous generations."
Starting up and managing the site has been far from easy for the girls and they faced a number of challenges along the way.
"I must admit that the challenges we faced, such as starting off with no budget and having our idea rejected by many, made us doubt our ability to make it happen," says 23-year-old Mahrah Ahmad. "However, we reminded each other that all we needed was patience and a new plan."
Latifa Al Daheri, 23, explains that the girls divide the work equally.
"Some of us are in charge of contacting the parents, some are in charge of managing the website and others are in charge of contacting the media and other companies," she says.
"Touch of Hope is a part-time job for the girls in our group. We are either in full time employment or we're housewives."
Using the website is easy. Simply flick through the photo album, pick a child to whom you want to grant a wish and with a simple click you can make a difference to their lives and put a smile on their tired little faces.
The children's demands are small. Often all they dream of is having books, toys or electronic games.
"Most of the children whose wishes we have collected are patients at Tawam hospital [Al Ain]. The officials at the hospital have been very cooperative and we're hoping to expand the initiative to other hospitals in the UAE," said Mahra Mohammad.
Their perseverance seems to be paying off.
"We receive many supportive emails from people encouraging us to give more. And to our pleasant surprise we even received an email from a woman in New York telling us she was impressed by our efforts," said Latifa Al Daheri.
Those donating to the website have the option of delivering the gift themselves, to be able to see the difference they're making to the children.
Lamya said: "The majority of the donors have been able to meet the children and stay in touch with them and their families. It's amazing how a small gift makes you part of a new family."
The mother of two-year-old Theresa, whose wish was to have learning toys for her child was granted, said: "We [parents] are full of heartfelt gratitude to Touch of Hope for giving happiness to our daughter and other children who are sick and for cheering them up by fulfilling their little dreams, despite the hard conditions under which they live."
Online: Key link
Log on to Lamsat Amal by visiting http://lamsatamal.webs.com/
- The writer is a community journalist based in Abu Dhabi
How effective do you think such efforts are in helping those affected? What would encourage you to donate more to such causes?