Shaikh Zayed inspects offshore projects in Abu Dhabi in 1976. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: The founding father of the UAE, Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, not only believed in planting trees but also in sowing the seeds of goodness in people that would yield a rich harvest of humanitarian legacy for the future generations.

“This goodness was planted in each and every person living on the UAE land and even though many people did not personally meet him, they have witnessed his values and legacy through the UAE people who have followed his footsteps,” says Sultan Al Shehi, project manager at Emirates Red Crescent.

The country is observing Shaikh Zayed’s 14th death anniversary today, Ramadan 19. When 2018 was declared the Year of Zayed, Al Shehi said the people of the UAE did not have to be reminded of the importance of humanitarian work and the culture of giving — everyone wanted to take part.

“The response of people wanting to contribute with ideas in the Year of Zayed to help others has been overwhelming. Everyone is actively participating and volunteering inside and outside the country,” he said.

The sweep of Shaikh Zayed’s humanitarianism is vast and has touched millions of lives, said Al Shehhi. From launching housing projects for the needy to providing food and medicine for people suffering from poverty regardless of race, gender, language or religion, Zayed’s inclusiveness was all-encompassing.

Shaikh Zayed rides a boat during his visit to Delma Island in the 1970s.

“He always said the wealth here was not for us or for the UAE only but should be shared with others outside the country.”

During his time, the UAE gave Dh90.5 billion worth of aid in various forms to 117 countries.

Recalling his trip to Ohio a few years ago, Al Shehi said it was just one example of the places around the globe where Shaikh Zayed had left marks of his good deeds

“Shaikh Zayed was being treated in one of the big hospitals there and I came to know of his contributions there. Close to the hospital, he also opened a prayer room in one of the hotels so people could pray. When I visited the area, I was able to witness his unlimited goodness,” he said.

Sultan Al Shehi of Emirates Red Crescent at one of the charity projects.

Shaikh Zayed left behind a rich legacy, almost impossible to match, but from which countless useful lessons have been absorbed, he said.

“There are many lessons we learnt from him — his ethics, humbleness and the way he treated and cared for people. We learnt how to love giving and help others even if we don’t know them,” A Shehi said.

Every Emirati, he said, is an ambassador to the UAE in maintaining its reputation as a nation, dignity of the people living here and in treating visitors in the best way possible.

Young Emiratis inspired by Zayed’s humanitarianism

They hope to follow in Shaikh Zayed’s footsteps and to always provide a helping hand to others

Abu Dhabi: Leaving behind a long lasting legacy in humanitarian work, the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan continues to inspire countless of young Emiratis with his selfless acts, as they hope to follow in his charitable path of helping others.

Now studying at universities, the young Emirati students spoke about Shaikh Zayed’s generous attitude and its influence on them, providing them with an outlook on life that has motivated them to play their role in helping their community and those in need.

Faisal Essam, 22, Abu Dhabi University

“The late Shaikh Zayed’s humanitarian work and care for others is a big influence on us as Emiratis, especially for the young generation who wish to emulate his charitable example. Shaikh Zayed’s good deeds and traits always inspires me to help other people and to have a giving attitude. It feels great when you can help others and it’s one of the things that makes me most happy. As young Emiratis we want to follow in Shaikh Zayed’s footsteps and to keep his legacy of helping other people in need alive, the best way to honour his memory and work is by doing the same as he did.”

Ali Lari, 19, Zayed University

“I was a young child when Shaikh Zayed was alive, and as I grew up and learned about him I really got inspired to know how generous he was and how he was always trying to help other people whether they were inside or outside the UAE. Shaikh Zayed’s humanitarian character definitely set an example for the country and Emiratis - an example we always try to follow and keep alive. Everyday we read the quotes of Shaikh Zayed and his encouragement to lend a helping hand to other people, he showed what a great leader he was with his charitable work, and it makes me very proud as a young Emirati.”

Shaikha Al Mutawa, 22, Khalifa University

“Since I was young I always heard about Shaikh Zayed and his humanitarian work, and this influenced me a lot as I grew up hoping that I could do the same as he did. When I came to university I became the president of a group called hope club - a charitable club that supports non-profit organisations – and we managed to help an organisation that was building hospitals in Bangladesh. That experience of being able to be a part of such a humanitarian project will be something that stays with me for the rest of my life, and it was the late Shaikh Zayed who was the inspiration for me to be involved with such a project.”

Hessa Al Rais, 21, Zayed University

“The journey and work of the late Shaikh Zayed started before I was born, the land was growing with buildings, schools and health services. Shaikh Zayed was building a nation to see his people thrive and prosper. Shaikh Zayed did not stop and limit his kindness and generosity to his people only, he opened his arms to all of humanity as well. Our responsibilities now is to maintain what we have been doing since the time of Shaikh Zayed, to continue developing and to continue giving back to our country. We must also help as much as we can other people, to maintain the great image of the UAE that was started by Shaikh Zayed.”

Hanouf Al Hammadi, 22, Khalifa University

“Shaikh Zayed’s charitable work is a huge inspiration to us because when you see his example of giving to others you want to follow and do the same, and you want to do your best to keep that legacy of his alive. I believe that we must always give to the people around us, not just to our family, but also to our friends, neighbours and the people living in the countries around us. If you are in a good situation then you should strive to achieve the same for other people, providing them with what they need to become successful.”

Buthaina Abdul Hakeem, 24, Zayed University

“Equipped with wisdom and generosity, the late Shaikh Zayed built this great nation to pursue nothing but tolerance and care towards our neighbours and all of mankind. The UAE’s list of achievements, which is witnessed today, is a result of a forward going vision by the humanitarian legacy of our father Zayed, who has instilled many values and principles at the heart of every citizen seeking to raise the country.”

Amna Al Jallaf 25, Emirati Dubai, marketing executive

I think I was 10 years-old or younger when Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan passed away, but I was lucky to have lived some time to witness his humanitarian works and contributions not only in the UAE but around the world. To be able to see someone build a country from nothing and also witness his generosity is truly inspiring to me. The late Shaikh Zayed was a leader who loved to spread happiness and joy and opened the doors for people to get their education for free. I learned a lot about his foreign aid projects in Africa at a younger age, where he had built many clinics and houses. With everything we had here he wanted it to also be there in other countries, such as access to education and healthcare, which is a basic human right. His generosity and values are reflected in every single Emirati today. Many Emiratis want good things for others and this is because Shaikh Zayed inspired us to be selfless. Because of his generous vision, I was able to get my education for free for my whole life.

Saif Abdullah 29, radio presenter

The late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan transformed the UAE from a desert and used his wealth to build hospitals, schools and colleges and advance the country. He was a leader who devoted his life to the service of his people and the creation of a better world. I believe every Emirati should follow his footsteps and humanitarian vision by volunteering to build new schools, colleges and homes for underprivileged people because this is what our father, Shaikh Zayed, taught us to do. His legacy and generosity still thrives today and lives within each Emirati. Doing charitable works is part of our culture as Emiratis and I make sure to carry on this legacy by helping others in need whenever I can.

Zayed’s humanitarian legacy still shapes UAE policy

Country has been recognised as the world’s top aid donor for last three consecutive years

Abu Dhabi: The UAE’s consistent and committed support and aid to countries around the world is proof of the vitality of Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s legacy, a commitment which has also seen the country establish itself as the world’s largest aid donor for the last three years, said an Emirati professor.

“Shaikh Zayed’s charitable attitude has created a great impact on our nation, and it is a legacy that continues through the UAE’s humanitarian policies. The UAE today stands as one of the top donors for providing aid, and that is a testament to the influence of Shaikh Zayed,” said Asma Obaid, an assistant professor at Zayed University.

“Shaikh Zayed did not differentiate on race, colour, religion or nationality when he used to give. This was a part of his personality and vision, he had a very pure intention and believed that helping others did not need political reasons,” she added. Obaid highlighted some of Shaikh Zayed’s humanitarian work around the world, including the rebuilding of the Marib Dam in Yemen.

“He helped rebuild the Marib Dam in Yemen, which to this day still benefits its people providing them with water for their agriculture. In places like Egypt and Palestine, he helped build homes and cities as well as provided donations for several programmes that helped local citizens. Around Africa too, he built several schools. His work was never limited to a specific location, he helped both Arab and non-Arab countries,” she said.

Speaking of the global impact of Shaikh Zayed’s work, Obaid said, “Shaikh Zayed was recognised around the world for his humanitarian attitude and not just in the UAE.”

Commenting on how students could also preserve the memory of Shaikh Zayed’s humanitarian work, Obaid said it was all about them becoming active and helpful members in the community.

“At our university, students volunteer with a number of charitable organisations. They do a lot of work through these organisations, getting the chance to travel to different countries and seeing what the situation is like. This includes visiting refugee camps and taking part in the building of schools and nurseries.

“It is important for universities to encourage students to take part in such initiatives — working with other charitable groups, organising university fund-raisers for causes around the world, or setting up clubs through which students can volunteer and play a positive role.”

Shaikh Zayed: an icon of global humanitarian work

Shaikh Zayed provides more than Dh98b aid in forms of grants, loans and assistance to help people around the world

Abu Dhabi: Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan prioritised local and international humanitarian and charity issues, and the amount of aid provided by the UAE till the end of 2000, as per his directives, totalled more than Dh98 billion, in the form of grants, loans and assistance.

Shaikh Zayed with a group of Emiratis at a farm in the 1980s.


The Shaikh Zayed Suburb Project in occupied Jerusalem, worth nearly Dh15 million, is one of Shaikh Zayed’s critical projects in Palestine. His other projects include the reconstruction of Jenin Camp, which cost around Dh100 million, as well as the construction of Shaikh Zayed City in Gaza at the cost of Dh220 million, Shaikh Khalifa City in Rafah, and the Emirati neighbourhood in Khan Younis. He also launched many hospitals, schools, health centres and centres for the people of determination in Palestinian villages, camps and cities, in both Gaza and the West Bank.

The Gulf is in the heart

In 1981, Shaikh Zayed chaired a summit where the establishment of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was announced. The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development provided Dh160 million loans to Bahrain to fund energy and industrial projects.

In 1972, Shaikh Zayed helped Yemen by launching San’aa Radio, and in 1974, he presented an additional amount of $1.71 million (Dh6.27 million) to maintain television and radio projects.

Under Shaikh Zayed’s directives, the UAE provided emergency aid worth $3 million (Dh11 million) to Yemen to reduce the effects of floods in the 1990s.


Shaikh Zayed’s directives had a significant impact on Egypt, where he established numerous projects, including the construction of tourist and residential villages and cities, cultivating agricultural land, and providing financial support to medical centres and hospitals.

Following the October 1973 War, Shaikh Zayed paid for rebuilding of Suez Canal, Ismailia and Port Saeed, which were destroyed by the Israeli attack in 1967.

During his participation in the historic international celebrations in Aswan in 1990, Shaikh Zayed donated $20 million (Dh73.4 million) to revive the ancient library in Alexandria.


Shaikh Zayed strengthened relations between the UAE and Morocco, by launching many initiatives and projects. These projects include the Shaikh Zayed Treatment Institution and the Mariam Children’s Centre, as well as the construction of integrated residential units.

In 1976, the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development provided a loan of Dh40 million to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments of Morocco.


Shaikh Zayed provided generous aid to Sudan to establish the medical college and Nasser Hospital in Wad Medani. He also gave $3 million (Dh11 million) to combat the effects of drought in Sudan. The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development also provided a loan of Dh5.16 million towards a rural development project in Darfur, in western Sudan.

In 1999, a relief plane with 40 tonnes of food aid arrived in Khartoum, to help those affected by floods that swept through the Sudanese state of Dongola.

Reconstruction of Lebanon and supporting Syria

Shaikh Zayed paid for a demining project in Lebanon’s south. He also wanted the UAE to play a leading role in the rebuilding process in Lebanon after the war, and the country provided financial assistance, grants and loans to key development projects.

During the era of Shaikh Zayed, the UAE supported charity and development projects in Syria, and the Abu Dhabi Fund for Arab Economic Development signed three agreements to fund three industrial projects, worth Dh911 million.


In Pakistan, three Islamic centres were established in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar by Shaikh Zayed to promote Islamic and Arab culture among Pakistanis. He also contributed to the paving and widening of the mountain road in Kharan, the construction of the Dali Mosque, digging of water wells and building of schools and houses in different parts of the country.

Shaikh Zayed donated $500,000 in 1982 to establish the Islamic Chamber for Commerce and Industry in Karachi. He also provided medical aid, scholarships and urgent assistance to earthquake and flood victims.

Foreign aid

Emirati charity projects during the era of Shaikh Zayed were not limited to Arab and Islamic countries. They also covered the developed world. In 1992, the UAE gave $5 million to the United States Disaster Relief Fund, to help the victims of Hurricane Andrew that hit the state of Florida.

Shaikh Zayed also supported Bosnia and Herzegovina. On April 26, 1993, he gave $10 million to help its people.

In May 1990, an agreement was signed to establish an Islamic printing house in Beijing, through a Dh3.1 million grant from Shaikh Zayed to support Chinese Muslims. He also donated $500,000 to the UAE-China Friendship Association.

The Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation provided 145 tonnes of food aid to those affected by famine in the Horn of Africa, and the UAE Cabinet offered emergency aid worth $100,000 to those affected by an earthquake in Guatemala.

International organisations

Shaikh Zayed keenly supported international and Islamic organisations, and donated $50,000 to support the activities of the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) after establishment of the UAE. The UAE also donated $424,000 to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), $100,000 to Unicef, and $54,000 to the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

Shaikh Zayed also increased the capital of the Abu Dhabi Fund for Arab Economic Development to $500 million.

In 1974, the UAE gave an interest-free loan of $2.4 million to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). In 1982, the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development supported the Senegal River Basin Organisation with a loan of Dh259 million.

- With inputs from Mary Achkhanian and Sami Zaatari, Staff Reporters