MBR with arab hope maker tala al khalil
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, with winner Tala Al Khalil at the awards ceremony at Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai on Sunday Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: The Arab world’s most prestigious honour for philanthropists went to Iraqi pharmacist Tala Al Khalil, who has cared for more than 200 children with cancer and special needs, when she was crowned the winner of the fourth Arab Hope Maker Award in Dubai by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, on Sunday.

Sheikh Mohammed also honoured three other finalists, all of whom won Dh1 million each, along with the Al Khalil and directed that all four finalists be awarded the title of Arab Hope Maker.

Iraqi pharmacist Tala Al Khalil, Mohamed Al Najjar from Iraq, Fathiya Al Mahmoud from Egypt and Amin Mounier from Morocco, during Arab Hope makers Award ceremony in Coca Cola Arena, Dubai. Photo:Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News
Arab Hope Makers: Iraqi pharmacist Tala Al Khalil, Mohamed Al Najjar from Iraq, Fathiya Al Mahmoud from Egypt and Amine Imnir from Morocco Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

The finalists were chosen from a whopping 58,000 applications received by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives (MBRGI). The glittering closing ceremony took place in the presence of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of The Executive Council of Dubai, and was witnessed by an audience of 12,000 people at the Coca-Cola Arena.t

Tala Al Khalil was chosen as the final winner after receiving the highest number of live votes during the ceremony.

The other finalists were Mohamed Al Najjar from Iraq, Fathiya Al Mahmoud from Egypt and Amine Imnir from Morocco. Tala Al Khalil was chosen as the final winner after receiving the highest number of live votes during the ceremony.

Dubbed the ‘Mother of Warriors’, Tala started her journey as a hope maker in 2015, when she started receiving young cancer patients in a special ‘caravan’ at the Basra Children’s Hospital to help them overcome challenges associated with their illness, including studying and inclusion in society.

This initiative offered children with cancer a room for hope and optimism away from the hard reality of treatments and hospital wards. This was the start that inspired Tala to establish her Warriors Academy in 2018, to care for young people of determination who suffer various illnesses. Today, Tala has personally cared for 200 children with Down Syndrome and cancer.

Offering much-needed psychological support to the children who now call her ‘mama’, Tala is a strong believer in the role of good mental health in enhancing immunity and the body’s ability to fight illness.

Speaking at the award ceremony, Tala recalled how she helped bring back some of the children to life, including one who had tried to commit suicide five times. “Now he is a manger of a factory managing 30 employees,” she said with pride.

Hope making, life making

The largest initiative of its kind in the Arab region celebrating philanthropists launched by Sheikh Mohammed in 2017 saw its fourth season after a gap of four years following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In our part of the world, hope making is life making. The only way we can overcome challenges is through collaborative efforts,” Sheikh Mohammed said.

“Hope for a better future is what keeps people going. Every new generation bears the responsibility of creating a better reality in their communities. On the other hand, spreading despair is our major challenge, which is why we need to continue to nurture hope, optimism and positivity among the new generation,” he concluded.

Wealth of philanthropists

Mohammad Al Gergawi, secretary-general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives said the Hope Makers initiative reflects the vision of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of instilling the culture of giving across the Arab world, while celebrating those who launch life-changing initiatives that benefit communities and inspire the new generation to create a better future.

“The 4th season of Hope Makers revealed a number of unique charity initiatives that serve Arab communities and help thousands of people around the world. More than 58,000 Arab hope makers have proved that our region enjoys a wealth of philanthropists who renew our faith in our ability to become a global model of giving and philanthropy, regardless of color, race or religion,” he added.

Al Gergawi affirmed that Hope Makers initiative will continue to support voluntary work aiming to improve quality of life across Arab communities, and to celebrate efforts to serve vulnerable populations and alleviate their suffering, in line with MBRGI’s objectives of promoting a culture of hope and nurturing innovative ideas that can be transformed into sustainable projects in the Arab World.

Massive response

The ceremony was attended by a host of officials and media representatives. The event was a celebration hope and culture with live performances of several Arab celebrities, including Ahlam, Hussain Al Jassmi and Assala, alongside artists and media personalities.

Inspiring stories

The event also showcased the inspiring stories of three finalists Mohamed Al Najjar from Iraq, Fathiya Al Mahmoud from Egypt and Amine Imnir from Morocco.

Dr Mohamed Al Najjar, 37, from Iraq lost his leg in 2014. A fan of football since his childhood, he turned this tragedy into a driver of change and hope. While studying for his PhD in England, he joined the Portsmouth football team for amputees, excelled and made a name for himself, winning the title of the club’s best player in 2019.

Upon returning to Iraq, he strived to recreate this experience in his home country, and managed to form a football team of amputees that went on to participate in international friendly matches, qualifying for the 2022 Amputee Football World Cup in Turkey just one year after its formation. Thanks to Al Najjar’s relentless effort to motivate his team members and help them out of despair due to their injuries, the Iraqi team now ranks 19th globally out of 70 amputee football teams

Al Najjar’s selfless drive to help amputees like him went beyond training and motivating the team to financial support, until the team was known enough to attract sponsors.

All the members of the amputee football team were present at the ceremony to cheer him.

From Morocco, the audience met Youtuber Amine Imnir, whose social media account ‘Faysboki’ strives to improve living conditions for underprivileged Moroccans. Heading the AFTAS Society for Development and Solidarity, Amine has sponsored a number of humanitarian initiatives and aid campaigns in his country, documenting his efforts through his Faysboki TV channel to help spread the culture of humanitarian work and motivate others to join.

AFTAS’s list of achievements includes distribution of over 1,000 solar panels, more than 4,500 food parcels to poor families including widows and orphans, financing 217 surgeries in 2023 and the planting of 2,800 fruitful trees.

Known as ‘the mother of orphans’ or ‘Mama Fathiya’, Egyptian hope maker Fathiya Al Mahmoud offers an inspiring example of selfless giving and nurturing hope.

Failing to have children of her own since her marriage 30 years ago, she decided in 2005 to adopt 34 orphan girls. With the aid of her husband, they founded ‘A Touch of Hope’ society to care for orphans, caring for raising, educating and inspiring 34 girls without any outside help.

Realising that raising that number of girls is a challenging endeavour, Fathiya dived deep into the world of nurturing children and how to care for girls’ physical and mental needs. In addition to their work in caring for orphans, Fathiya and her husband established a charity hospital that offers free healthcare to orphans and people of determination.

Evaluation criteria

Contributions to the 4th edition of the initiative covered its various themes of Community Service, Humanitarian Aid and Relief, Spreading Education and Knowledge, Empowering Youth, Inspiring Stories, Health and Fighting Disease and Arts and Culture among others.

All 58,000 nominations were subject to extensive evaluations according to several criteria that determined the winners for this season.

Art creates hope

In its 4th season, The Arab Hope Makers initiative teamed up with the ET Arabic platform, to launch “Art Creates Hope”, a campaign that aims to involve Arab celebrities and artists in various humanitarian projects and initiatives across the Arab world.

The aim is to promote the values of kindness, generosity, and hope among the people and to foster a positive culture in Arab societies.

Fight against despair

Sheikh Mohammed launched the Hope Makers initiative in 2017 when he posted a creative ad on his official social media accounts, offering a job for the position of Hope Maker for a reward of Dh1 million.

The key mission of the initiative is to spread hope to support the fight against despair, cultivate optimism and instill a culture of giving that helps change makers translate their ideas and ambitions into reality on the ground. It targets all Arab individuals and institutions who have creative and impactful projects, programmes, campaigns or initiatives that aim to make a positive change and enhance the stability and social solidarity across Arab communities.