His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah
His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi said, 'We will continue our role in supporting and assisting refugees and the needy wherever we reach, or through the reach of our partners.' Image Credit: WAM

Sharjah: A Malawi refugee poet and his NGO were on Wednesday named as the winners of the Dh500,000 Sharjah International Award for Refugee Advocacy and Support (Siara 2020).

Tumaini Letu, a non-profit organisation based at the Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi, Africa, and founded by refugee poet and artist Tresor Nzengu Mpauni, won the fourth annual edition of Siara.

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In its fourth edition, Siara 2020 received 242 nominations from 52 countries across Asia, Middle East and Africa.

The organisation’s flagship programme, the annual Tumaini Festival, is an art and culture event that has attracted 99,000 attendees and united 304 groups of artists from 18 different countries over the past six years, while also generating around $150,000 of funds (Dh555,9378) annually.

Organised by The Big Heart Foundation (TBHF), a Sharjah-based global humanitarian charity, in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the 2020 edition of the awards ceremony was held virtually on World Humanitarian Day (August 19) in line with the ongoing global preventative measures against COVID-19.

Supporting refugees

“We will continue our role in supporting and assisting refugees and the needy wherever we reach, or through the reach of our partners,” said Dr His Highness Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, during the virtual event.

At the virtual address broadcast live on TBHF’s social media platforms, Dr Shaikh Sultan said: “Even as wars and violence continue to displace more people every day, our duty is to decrease the impact of wars through actions that benefit innocent victims.”

The Ruler of Sharjah said initiatives such as Siara help in “minimising the effects of wars, especially feelings of injustice, persecution and hatred”.

Pledging his commitment to continue to support refugees, Dr Shaikh Sultan thanked TBHF for improving the lives of millions of displaced persons worldwide. He also commended the efforts of his wife, Shaikha Jawaher Bint Mohammad Al Qasimi, Chairperson of TBHF and UNHCR Eminent Advocate for Refugee Children, “for leaving a sustainable impact wherever she visited, and planting the seeds of hope, awareness and love”.

In his message, Dr Shaikh Sultan described Sharjah as the emirate that “chose to stand by the victims of conflicts, wars, disasters, poverty and the weak whose rights are violated”.

‘Pioneering initiative’

Established in 2017, Siara honours humanitarian outfits across Asia, the Middle East and Africa and draws global attention to their efforts and initiatives in improving lives of refugee communities.

Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, spoke at the event, saying Siara is a “pioneering initiative that draws global attention to the plight of 80 million people uprooted around the world and honours those who are helping transform the response to the refugee crisis”.

He lauded the efforts of Shaikha Jawaher in driving humanitarian efforts in support of those displaced and thanked TBHF for providing essential life-saving support to more than one million people — including Iraqis, Rohingyas, South Sudanese and Syrian refugees.

Transforming refugee camps into ‘living societies’

Speaking at the event, Mariam Al Hammadi, director of TBHF, said: “There is an entire generation of refugees and displaced children who have not seen anything but harsh and dire conditions throughout their young lives. We must ask ourselves what future awaits them if there are no institutions keen to compensate them psychologically, morally and emotionally.”

She congratulated the efforts of Tumaini Letu “in transforming refugee camps into living societies where its inhabitants can exercise their rights to live and regain what has been lost on intellectual and emotional levels in the Republic of Malawi”.

Emotional speech

Delivering an emotional acceptance speech, award winner Mpauni said: “I am receiving this award at a time when humanity and solidarity are needed more than ever before; a time when we are all shaken by a pandemic and still uncertain of what the future will look like.

“At this very moment, one per cent of the global population is forcibly displaced due to war and persecution, living in dangerous conditions, and exposed to possible death. I am accepting this award on their behalf because I am one of them,” said Mpauni, who is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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“By opening the doors of the Dzaleka Refugee Camp to the world, Tumaini Festival creates jobs and economic opportunities for the refugee community to raise money through various businesses. It creates a market space for craft people to sell their products and gives families the opportunity to earn an income by hosting guests at their homes,” he added.

Thanking Dr Shaikh Sultan, his wife Shaikha Jawaher and TBHF for their efforts in refugee advocacy, Mapauni added: “The Siara award is a motivation for the entire refugee community in Malawi.”