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Iraqi pharmacist Tala Al Khalil, Mohamed Al Najjar from Iraq, Fathiya Al Mahmoud from Egypt and Amine Imnir from Morocco, during Arab Hope Maker awards ceremony at Coca Cola Arena in Dubai on Sunday Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: The Dh1 million Arab Hope Maker Award bestowed on four finalists by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has renewed optimism for the future of underprivileged individuals across the Arab world.

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Iraqi pharmacist Tala Al Khalil was crowned the winner after bagging the highest live votes at a ceremony at Dubai’s Coca Cola Arena on Sunday night. The other finalists, who were also bestowed the title and Dh1 million prize by Shaikh Mohammad, were Dr Mohammad Al Najjar from Iraq, Fathiya Al Mahmoud from Egypt and Amine Imnir from Morocco.

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Tala Al Khalil Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

The awardees told Gulf News how they planned to change more lives with the prize money from Shaikh Mohammad, whom they hailed as the biggest hope maker.

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Giving special children a future

Al Khalil, who has taken care of more than 200 children with cancer and special needs, said she plans to utilise her prize money for the children in her Warriors Academy.

She plans to build a bigger building to train children with special needs and set up factories or manufacturing units where their vocational skills can be utilised.

“I believe that everyone dreams of a normal life. This is a big dream. I want them to live a normal life. I want to make people respect [those with] special needs.”

Dubbed the ‘Mother of Warriors’, Al Khalil started her journey as a hope maker in 2015, when she started receiving young cancer patients in a special ‘caravan’ at Basra Children’s Hospital in Iraq. “I was only 16 when I first started helping them,” she said.

In 2018, Tala established her Warriors Academy to care for young people of determination with various illnesses. Offering psychological support to the children who now call her ‘mama’, Al Khalil believes that by focusing on their strengths and abilities, their challenges can be turned into opportunities.

For instance, she said, individuals with autism often exhibit repetitive behaviour, which can be channelled into creative activities like painting.

Putting amputee footballers on world stage

Dr Mohammad Al Najjar, who won the award for forming an Iraqi football team of amputees that went on to participate in international matches and qualified for the 2022 Amputee Football World Cup in Turkey just a year after its formation, said the prize money will help find solutions to challenges faced by his team.

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Dr Mohammad Al Najjar Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

The team is now ranked 19th globally among 70 amputee football teams.

The 37-year-old, who lost a leg in 2014, said: “We have been recognised by the ministry and many entities now. But, we haven’t received any funding.”

Dr Al Najjar, who holds a PhD in international law, added: “I hope the award will help us continue supporting these players and bring in more players that can make this sport a success in Iraq. When they see this initiative, more people will be encouraged to participate in this sport.”

He said the team has inspired an Emirati amputee to start a similar club in the UAE. “This is just an example. So we hope that this spreads hope in the Arab region,” he said.

Brighter future for orphans

Known as ‘the mother of orphans’ or ‘Mama Fathiya’, Egyptian hope maker Fathiya Al Mahmoud was awarded for raising 34 orphan girls through ‘A Touch of Hope’ society that she founded with her husband in 2005. Al Mahmoud and her husband also established a charity hospital that offers free health care to orphans and people of determination.

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Fathiya Al Mahmoud Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Fathiya plans to use her prize money to support more orphans. “I want to raise them as good human beings. I want them to have a better life and get them married,” she said.

Endowment fund for needy

Youtuber Amine Imnir of ‘Faysboki’ fame was awarded for uplifting disadvantaged Moroccans. As head of the AFTAS Society for Development and Solidarity, he spearheads numerous humanitarian endeavours, chronicled on his Faysboki channel to inspire others. His achievements include providing over 1,000 solar panels, 4,500 food parcels to needy families, funding 217 surgeries in 2023, and planting 2,800 fruit-bearing trees.

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Amine Imnir Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

“I’ll use the prize money to empower people in distress by assisting them in launching small businesses,” said Imnir. He plans to launch an endowment fund for this.