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His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum with Maryam Lehsen Amjoun. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: “Reading books can help us learn and heal. It is like a hospital to the mind,” were the poignant words by then nine-year old Maryam Lehsen Amjoun, who had won the hearts of the Arab world when she was crowned champion of the Arab Reading Challenge, back in October 2018.

She was the youngest finalist out of millions of participants from 44 Arab countries who joined the challenge organised by the Mohammad Bin Rashid Global Initiatives (MBRGI). When her name was announced as the overall champion, the eloquent and confident girl from Morocco burst into tears. Everyone was moved. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who was onstage to bestow the award, used his own ghutra to wipe Maryam’s tears of joy, in a very emotional scene.

As reported earlier by Gulf News, Maryam said: “I expected to win because I was prepared for this challenge. I have been reading books, summarising them and trying to understand their content.”

Before the award, Maryam was asked by one of the judges about her message to the Arab youth and she had confidently replied: “I will inspire them with my experience at the Arab Reading Challenge and will share the challenges I faced and how I overcame them. Reading can help fight poverty and ignorance. It is like a hospital to the mind.”

Reading ambassador

Today, at 11 years old, Maryam is an exceptional 6th grader, expanding her knowledge by studying different languages and mathematics. Her parents, who are both teachers, are also at hand to offer her full support. “She has become a role model and an icon to young people in Morocco since she was named the Arab Reading Champion,” according to MBRGI.

Maryam is a reading ambassador. She has visited numerous schools, where she shared her experiences and encouraged students of various ages to read and gain knowledge. She has also appeared on several TV shows to help raise awareness on road safety. With the onset of the global pandemic, Maryam used her position to raise awareness through interactive videos for children, about the precautions and safety measures necessary to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Unicef (United Nations Children’s Fund), the UN agency responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide, has also appointed her as an advocate for children’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa region. Maryam said every day presents her an opportunity to learn something new as she remains committed to the wise words she herself had once said: “Reading feeds the mind and is a treasure-chest of knowledge. Those who pursue it will thrive, those who neglect it will fall behind.”

‘Nabadat’ gave her a heartbeat

Rahma Al Tablawi was born with a congenital heart defect. She was crying incessantly ever since she was born. Her parents, who hail from the Kafr El Sheikh Governorate in Egypt, sought the help of paediatricians who told them that she needed an urgent corrective surgery. But the procedure had a very low success rate and the cost was prohibitive.

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Rahma Al Tablawi. Image Credit: Supplied

Rahma’s parents tried in vain to find help, even as their daughter continued to live in pain until she turned six. A ray of hope emerged when Rahma’s father was able to enrol her in the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Humanitarian and Charity Establishment’s ‘Nabadat’ initiative in Egypt. Nabadat, which means heartbeat in Arabic, is an initiative launched by the MBRCHE in collaboration with Dubai Health Authority, that provides free medical assistance, surgery and post-surgical care to children whose parents cannot afford to pay for treatment of congenital heart diseases.

In 2017, the family was finally able to schedule the urgent surgery Rahma desperately needed. Her father was initially worried that he might lose his daughter in the operating room, but he was comforted by the professional and highly trained ‘Nabadat’ medical staff who put Rahma at ease and prepared her psychologically for the surgery.

Rahma successfully underwent a critical six-hour operation and her parents were overcome with joy when they were told that their daughter would not have to live in pain anymore.

More than three years after the surgery, Rahma is now looking forward to living a long life full of joy and success. Her parents will forever be grateful to ‘Nabadat’ for giving their little girl back her heartbeat.

Spreading hope in the Arab world

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Sheikh Mohammed hands over the award to Mahmoud Waheed. Image Credit: Supplied

Mahmoud Waheed, a young Egyptian engineer, never imagined that one of his evening walks on the streets of Cairo would lead him to a life-changing experience. As he was strolling down the city’s neighbourhoods, he heard a plea coming from one of the side streets. To his surprise, he found a wounded elderly man, in pain and covered with blood. Mahmoud did not leave him to suffer alone. He bandaged his wounds and tried to take him to a hospital, but the man was not admitted since he neither had a family member nor was he carrying any identification document with him. Mahmoud then took the man to an elderly care centre, but its doors were shut.

That night, Mahmoud made a resolution to start an initiative called ‘Together to Save a Human’. Its aim was to provide homeless elderly people with food, shelter and medical care. In 2018, he was nominated for the second round of the Arab Hope Makers, an initiative under MBRGI.

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Mahmoud was eventually named the Arab Hope Maker that year. Mahmoud said his win has earned him the respect and trust of Egyptians and Arabs and paved the way for him to open five additional branches of ‘Together to Save a Human’ across Cairo, bringing the total number of charity branches to seven.

He said the prize had given him moral and financial support that enabled him to fulfil his ambition of being an active member in the humanitarian field in Cairo. In the ensuing months and years, he was able to expand his project to accommodate and rehabilitate more homeless people before reuniting them with their families.