Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid with Mahmoud Wahid
File photo: Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid with Mahmoud Wahid, winner of the Arab Hope Makers award, and other finalists during a ceremony in Dubai on May 14, 2018. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: The third edition of the Arab Hope Makers initiative has received 65,489 submissions, celebrating inspiring philanthropic efforts that positively impact society from across the Arab world.

The initiative, which was first launched in 2017 by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, falls under the umbrella of Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives (MBRGI).

Entries were accepted till April 18. The evaluation process will continue till the end of the month and the winner will be announced in May.

29%

of the 65,489 entries came from volunteer programmes

Considered the largest of its kind, the initiative is dedicated to celebrating flashes of hope in the Arab world, honouring people who have launched humanitarian initiatives, projects and programmes that improve their communities, enhance quality of life and help those in need.

The initiative’s main message to the region is one of hope. “Our message is to channel hope to fight despair, frustration and pessimism, and to enhance optimism, strengthen the culture of giving, and provide the opportunity for positive change through the people who spread those aspirations with their initiatives and projects,” read a statement on the initiative’s official website.

In its third round, 29 per cent of the 65,489 submissions came from volunteer programmes, 19.6 per cent from youth-focused initiatives, 19.1 per cent from educational initiatives, and 9.1 per cent from health-related initiatives and 23.3 per cent from other types of initiatives.

Dh1million

prize money for Arab Hope Maker winner

Last year, Mahmoud Wahid’s efforts in providing shelter for over 1,000 homeless elderly in Egypt won him the title of the ‘Arab world’s biggest hope maker’. Five other finalists were shortlisted from 15 and also given Dh1 million each for dedicating their time to serving others in their communities.

The finalists were selected from among 87,000 participants from 15 Arab and 20 other countries.

Meet the contenders

Hawa Adel Mohammad, Canadian-Somalian, former refugee empowers over 215,000 women back home

Hawa Adel Mohammad
Hawa Adel Mohammad Image Credit: Supplied

A Somali woman forced to leave her country in 1991, Hawa Adel Mohammad was determined to return to her homeland, to help empower the most vulnerable segment of any conflict — girls and woman.

Once a refugee, Hawa established her new life in Canada after she was among the two million people forced to leave Somalia at the peak of the 1991 conflict.

However, seeing her countrywomen fall victims to violence prompted her to take action and make a change.

She returned to her war-stricken homeland Somalia just four years later, devoting herself to empowering internally displaced girls and women often subjected to violence and torture. Hawa established Galkaio Education Centre for Peace and Development in Puntland, north-eastern Somalia, in 1999 after four years of tireless work.

“Girls were always left behind. They have no right to education and no value in their society, which makes me angry,” 70-year-old Hawa said.

Somalia’s crisis was exacerbated by drought and famine, which uprooted an additional half million people. Over 1.3 million Somalis are internally displaced, which makes up third of Somalia’s estimated 7.5 million population.

“Women would get attacked, sometimes even tortured, if seen outside getting firewood or water for their families. They aren’t thinking life. They are stuck between war and drought.”

The centre, which oversees 13 schools, provides adult education and vocation training to empower young women and victims of violence.

“We built the center as a place where girls can come and women can receive their education, talk, advice each other and even cry sometimes,” Hawa said.

The centre teaches reading, writing and math, while helping women acquire some skills like tailoring.

Until today, the facility sheltered and supported over 215,000 displaced, victims of violence to help them recover and restart their lives. Thanks to the centre, a library is now built in a country were women rarely went to school.

“I came from Canada with a laptop since we didn’t have an office. Today, we have 13 schools with necessary facilities and furniture to provide girls with proper education.”

One of the beneficiaries was Arsha Abu Bakr, mother of nine, who supports another five children in her family. She used to beg for 2,000 Somali shillings (about Dh13) for water until a $300 loan provided by the centre helped her start her own market in the camp.

“Now I can buy vegetables and food items I need to support my family,” said Abu Bakr.

But nothing can describe Hawa’s happiness when a woman on her team became a member of the Somali parliament.

“Education is a right, not a privilege. With women now in parliament, hopefully, our voice will be heard. It will not be Hawa’s voice, but women’s voice.”

Georgie Zouein, Lebanon, teenager uses karting passion to support underprivileged

Georgie Zouein
Georgie Zouein Image Credit: Supplied

UAE-based Georgie Zouein was only 11 years old when he decided to turn his passion of karting to spread smiles among children in need, embarking on a special journey of giving.

A karting enthusiast from the age of six, Zouein honed his skills to participate in different championships across the Middle East, United States and Europe, thanks to his father’s support.

When the 13-year-old scored a milestone victory in a junior karting race in Canada in 2016, he realised it was time to share his happiness and privileges with the less fortunate.

Zouein donated the cash prize he received in Canada’s race to the Mar Semaan Centre in Lebanon that shelters and supports four to five-year-old homeless and underprivileged children growing in dysfunctional environments.

The gesture inspired him further to start his ‘Racing for Happiness’ initiative to encourage donations to the center and raise awareness about children who live in poverty and desperation.

Through the charity program, Zouein dedicates his prizes, along with donations, towards helping unfortunate children in the Mar Semaan center.

“I consider myself fortunate to be enjoying such an expensive sport, at a time when there are many less fortunate children in the world living difficult lives,” said Zouein. “This inspired me to start sharing the joy by dedicating my races towards touching their lives and putting smiles on their faces,” he added.

Zouein’s initiative has so far helped 34 children, seven of whom were supported since the start of this year. The teenager is doubling his awareness campaigns to spread more smiles after his visit to the centre’s boarding school where he saw heart-wrenching scenes of children impacted by poverty.

“I feel proud and happy every time I make an achievement in a race, because I know another child is going to be smiling.”

He said he has faith that his message will reach others his age. “I have faith that our generation will help build a society based on cooperation, tolerance and love through supporting those in need,” said Zouein.

Khadija Al Qorti, Morocco, widow turns home to shelter for cancer patients

Khadija Al Qorti
Khadija Al Qorti Image Credit: Supplied

For Khadija Al Qorti, the loss of her husband to cancer was a difficult time yet the inspiration behind transforming her home to a free shelter for women with cancer.

Al Qorti established Jannat Association to host women with cancer for free, after sympathising with the struggles of less fortunate patients who are visiting Rabat from distant provinces and villages to receive cancer treatment in the capital’s advanced health facilities.

The three-storey association, named Jannat (Paradise in Arabic), daily shelters over 20-25 female guests who get access to comfortable beds, meals and rooms to meet others until they finish their treatment in the capital city of Rabat.

“I saw my husband constantly moving across Morocco to receive his treatment in a long and tough journey of cancer. I wanted to build a home that would ease some of the already-draining treatment burden and make women feel comfortable,” said Al Qorti.

During her husband’s treatment, she saw many of the less fortunate patients at hospitals in need of support, food and care. The association has grown to become a safe haven that empowers and alleviates the suffering of marginalized women with cancer coming from remote villages and provinces without support.

According to the Moroccan Ministry of Health, there are more than 200,000 cancer patients in the country with an average of 40,000 new cases a year. Around 36 percent of those patients are women with breast cancer.

Through the association, Al Qorti provides moral support through forming cancer support groups within the home or seeking help from volunteering psychologists. A woman heads to the pharmacy to collect medicines for female patients.

Over the years, the association has gained the support of local community and humanitarian organizations that often cover a portion of patients’ treatment and help Al Qorti afford the rent.

Al Qorti said she hopes to continue supporting female cancer patients in the country, with the help of donors and contributors in the society. “Serving others creates a cohesive society and brings people together towards a greater cause,” said Al Qorti, who relies on her late husband’s pension to fund her charity work.

She has become the public voice for female cancer patients, often dedicating her social media platforms to encourage young Moroccans to contribute to the cause. “Cancer can be devastating for patients and their families. We need to stand together to empower those in desperate need for proper healthcare and social sustainable services that can help them rise again to a better life,” she said.

For Bushra Boulouika, who has been battling breast cancer, the association has lifted her financial burden. The mother of five said her family cannot afford the free facilities that the association provides. “I could have never rented a car to come to the city and return to my province. Thanks to [Al Qorti], I can receive my treatment without having to worry about a long drive back and forth,” said Boulouika.

Mohammad Al Sharif, Saudi Arabia, paralysed former officer empowers wheelchair users

Mohammad Al Sharif
Mohammad Al Sharif Image Credit: Supplied

As an air force officer, Mohammad Al Sharif had everything he had ever wished for: a stable job, decent car and successful marriage. His life suddenly turned upside down when a car accident left him wheelchair-bound in his homeland Saudi Arabia.

Filled with hopelessness and despair post the accident, Al Sharif’s life forever changed after talking to one man.

“A man called Eissa noticed my depression and told me that a doctor predicted he would die of cancer four years ago. Yet, he was standing well and sound in front of me.”

“I turned into a child who laughed and cried at the same time when I realized that one never knows what tomorrow brings,” said Al Sharif.

Determined to overcome his disability, Al Sharif took to the streets and learned to climb the stairs using his wheelchair. “I faced obstacles, but with training and time, I could climb pavements and stairs,” he said.

Al Sharif felt a sense of responsibility to share his knowledge with fellow wheelchair users and help them achieve independence.

In 2007, Al Sharif became a specialized trainer at Prince Sultan bin AbdulAziz City for Humanitarian Services where he innovated a specialized program to train wheelchair users to climb the stairs, open doors and drive a car in aims to help them become independent. “We do things that are not designed for wheelchairs, like climbing pavements, but it is our only way to overcome mobility obstacles we face on the streets,” said Al Sharif.

Now, his trainees can use wheelchairs the way they would use their legs when moving around.

“We hope to change the stereotype that people with disabilities are a burden to society. We want people to understand that a wheelchair is just a tool we add to our bodies to compensate for a simple weakness.”

Al Sharif has so far trained over 5,000 wheelchair users to overcome their disability and integrate into society. Recently, he became a registered trainer at the Aviation Academy in Riyadh and the first person with disability to take up paragliding in the Middle East.

“Wheelchairs are not limiting. We can still practice our daily life like anybody else,” said Al Sharif, noting that his story became an inspiration to people without disabilities.

One of his trainees, Faisal Al Saud said thanks to Al Sharif’s program, he can now drive a car as a wheelchair user. “We were trained to climb stairs and even drive a car just like anyone else. Al Sharif helped us perform our daily tasks, endorsing our belief that we are not any different and nothing can stop us,” said Al Saud.

Dr Zaid Khoursheed, Iraq, young man rebuilds homes in Iraq’s poor villages

Dr Zaid Khoursheed
Dr Zaid Khoursheed Image Credit: Supplied

In war-stricken Iraq, Umm Qasim, a single mother of seven, is crying on the streets. Residing in a remote village where houses are made of mud, Umm Qasim who had three severely disabled children, cannot protect her children from the rainy nights and hot sunny days.

“I don’t know where to go,” she cries. “My home is deteriorating and I live alone with no one to care for me or my children.”

Iraqi pharmacist Dr Zaid Khoursheed heard the call for help. “How can I leave her on the streets?” He made it his life mission to preserve the dignity of underprivileged families, especially widows and orphans, through rebuilding their homes with roofs and providing maintenance.

Choosing not to remain helpless, Khoursheed founded ‘Iraq Builders’ volunteering group that started with five volunteers in 2013. The group collected donations to buy construction equipment and rebuild poor homes for those who are incapable of affording repair and maintenance.

The group has grown to over 240 people who came together to install roofs for 823 families and provide aid to over 99,000 internally displaced Iraqis.

“If you want to humiliate people, you take away their homes and throw them on the streets. People’s dignity starts at home with a safe roof over their heads, Khourseed noted.

With widespread insecurity since 2014, over 10 million people remain in need and more than three million are internally displaced.

Khoursheed said building homes means securing a better future for children. “If children grow up in a house unfit for a decent life, they will definitely grow up to become criminals.”

Although he helps through his job as a pharmacist, Khoursheed found a greater need to provide homes for the underprivileged. “The worst thing is watching people get humiliated for the lack of material resources that can be provided. I hate to see someone begging,” said Khoursheed.

“We need to contain and take care of the weak and marginalised, or else why are we here in society?”

The group responded actively and rapidly to the disastrous effects of heavy rainstorms by organizing huge campaigns to rescue families with houses flooded by rain water.

Their efforts included building small local dams and providing safe shelters for families with severely damaged houses.

Upon finishing maintenance work for a deteriorating house, Khoursheed tells a family, “Just remember us in your prayers.” The family replied, “Every time it rains, we will pray for you. We were living in hell that you turned into paradise.”

That night, Khoursheed drove home in the rain and said, “Now we can rest well because we know they are safe.”

Nada Thabet, Egypt, village of Hope helps people of determination

Nada Thabet
Nada Thabet Image Credit: Supplied

Thabet knew something was wrong when her three-month-old son did not respond to his surroundings.

“He did not cry, he did not react to any stimulus,” she said. Thabet was devastated when she found out her son, Maged, was among 15 million other children born with disabilities in Egypt.

“Disability is a huge issue left in the margin in Egypt. Any parent with a challenged child was expected to hide at home. I was hurt when some of my friends told me to visit and leave Maged behind.”

On the outskirts of Alexandria, Thabet had bought a land to build a family resort for summer vacations. She turned the land into a self-sufficient village that rehabilitates children and adults with special needs.

Built in a relatively isolated area with no shops around, the ‘Hope Village Development Society and Social Rehabilitation for People with Disabilities’ trains People of Determination to plant their own crops and sell their products in Alexandria markets to make a living. Thabet established the village with a vision to make it a fully-functional source of production that does not rely on donations or financial support, but contributes to society instead.

“When I started the village, I noticed the children’s passion in the kitchen. We baked cakes and made salads and sandwiches to later sell them,” said Thabet. “Imagine if our bakeries in Egypt gave the chance for those children to bake, we wouldn’t have had a problem.”

In the village, adults with disabilities plant vegetables including eggplants, green pepper and tomatoes. The multi-storey facility today shelters and provides occupational training to over 3,000 young disabled adults.

It encompasses children’s accommodation and classrooms, a bakery, a modest potato plantation with a cow, and a crafts centre. Maged, now in his late 30s, is part of the team of trainers in the Village of Hope, helping other mentally challenged children to be independent.

“This is the first step towards achieving a cohesive society,” said Thabet.

Thanks to Thabet’s hard work and devoted efforts, schools in Alexandria have mainstreamed many of children with special needs.

Mousa Al Zuwairi, Jordan

Mousa Al Zuwairi
Mousa Al Zuwairi Image Credit: Supplied

‘Uncle Mousa’ devoted 30 years of his life to ensure students safe arrival to schools.

Mousa Al Zuwairi’s journey of watching out for school children crossing the road in different parts of Amman, Jordan, began when he saw a child run over by a car on the way to school one morning.

Moved by the scene, he stepped in to help a group of young students, caught in horror, holding their hands to cross the street. The heartbreaking accident changed his life ever since.

“I could not forget this child. I imagined his parent’s reaction once they know about the incident, and I realized we have a problem that needs to be addressed,” said the 62-year-old Jordanian.

However, the effort of one man impacted 100,000 students and families for many years to come.

Figures show that run-over accidents snuff out over 5,000 pedestrians every year. For the next 30 years, Al Zuwairi dedicated his life to saving students from dying on the streets on their way to school.

Every morning, he headed to a different school in Amman to ensure young students cross the road safely. Al Zuwairi’s work attracted media attention, prompting authorities to conduct field visits and take action.

Thanks to him, five pedestrian bridges have been built across schools in Amman, with one of them named after him: ‘Mousa Al Zuwairi bridge’ to honour his work that helped 45,000 students cross the road safely over three decades.

With time, Al Zuwairi became known to students as ‘Uncle Mousa’ whose presence brings safety to children.

“Seeing Uncle Mousa in the morning makes us feel safe. He laughs with us as he helps us cross the road,” one student said.

He trained groups of older students to direct the traffic and ensure children’s safety in 45 schools.

“I want children to learn the sense of giving, that we can give without expecting anything in return,” said Al Zuwairi. “I will never hesitate to continue doing what I do.”

How to become an Arab Hope Maker

Any person, organisation, association, volunteer group or institution carrying out a humanitarian initiative in any field is eligible to apply for the award under the following conditions:

1. The initiative should be original and prove it approaches a social or humanitarian problem differently and in an innovative manner.

2. The person should be recognized by his or her community for their effort, performance and humanitarian contributions.

3.The person should invest considerable effort, including investing resources, to ensure the success of their initiative.

4. The initiative should have a significant impact on the community or make a measurable positive difference.

5. The person behind the initiative should undertake his or her role purely non-profit.

6. If the applicant is an organization, institutions or charity it must be registered as a non-profit entity.

7. Submitting your person or initiative must be done by filling out the application form on this site – no other application will be accepted or considered.

8. The initiative should be ongoing, with potential to grow and continue.

9. The person and initiative should contribute to improving lives and making a positive difference in his or her community, helping fragile or vulnerable groups or alleviating the suffering, and providing relief, to those in need.