ABU DHABI // More than 35 countries have been helped by the Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation, the President's aid charity revealed in its first annual report yesterday. The poor, and victims of war and natural disasters, in countries from Pakistan to Myanmar, have benefited from financial or practical assistance from the foundation.
Its report for 2008 also detailed the financial support given to schoolchildren and university students from needy families, and to the construction of hospitals, mosques and housing projects. Local initiatives have included free medical care for patients unable to pay for treatment and help for prisoners to return home to their families. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, the Minister of Presidential Affairs and chairman of the foundation, told the board of directors at its last meeting that the Khalifa Foundation would expand further throughout the world and aimed to become a recognised "international charity organisation".
Although Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, the President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, has been active in the humanitarian field for decades, his foundation was formally established in mid-2007 and began funding and implementing projects last year. "Although we are a young and new organisation, our work in 2008 was beyond our expectations and we are looking to build on it more and more," said a spokeswoman for the foundation. "We are taking the legacy of humanity from Sheikh Zayed which is continued through Sheikh Khalifa."
Projects were put forward by staff around the Emirates, by UAE embassies and delegations around the world, by partner organisations or directly by Sheikh Khalifa or the board. The board then decided which ones to back. The organisation's ethos, the spokeswoman said, was to help people in need, regardless of religion, race or nationality. It focuses on providing access to health care and education, both in the UAE and around the world.
In Kenya, it helps to fund the Sheikh Khalifa High Technical School for Boys and Girls in Mombasa, which was founded almost 20 years ago. In 2008, more than 22,000 underprivileged students in the UAE were provided with books, school uniforms, bags and other items so they could go to school. Their parents were given coupons with which to buy stationery, headscarves and sports shoes. The same help was given to orphans.
"Through the Ministry of Education we made an announcement for schools to collaborate with us and for teachers to study the cases in public schools to find those needy students," the foundation's spokeswoman said. "We also wanted to be low-profile so that the other students did not know that some are not able to afford everything they need." The organisation also paid school fees for more than 8,000 UAE students. It supported young people going to university, with a focus on training the next generation of doctors and engineers, but also some funding for accountancy and technology students.
The foundation handed out 35 fellowships to both Emiratis and residents studying at Abu Dhabi University, Sharjah University, Ajman University for Sciences and Technologies, the American University of Sharjah and Dubai Medical College for Girls. There was also a focus on providing health care for those in need, with funding for the treatment for 40 patients. The charity helped 92 former prisoners who could not afford to fly home, paying for their tickets. "You can change the life of a family with just a very small amount for the ticket home," the spokeswoman said.
The charity also assisted haj pilgrims. In 2008, 97 Emiratis and UAE residents, as well as 242 from countries including Pakistan, Mauritania, China, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Afghanistan, went on haj through support from the foundation. The foundation also provided millions of meals during Ramadan, both in the UAE and abroad. More than 1.2 million meals were distributed within the UAE alone and more than 80 tents were set up across the country to provide iftar meals, primarily for labourers.
Every evening of the holy month, people in areas including Musaffah in Abu Dhabi, Al Quoz in Dubai and Sharjah Industrial Area flocked to the tents to break their fast. The project was extended to 23 other countries including Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Thailand, France, Italy, Australia, Switzerland and Bangladesh. Some 92 tonnes of dates were distributed to 320,000 families in seven countries. Outside the country, the foundation tends to work with UN organisations, such as the UN Development Programme (UNDP). "We started working with the foundation last year on projects outside the country, in less developed countries," said Walid Abu Saifan, a communications associate at the UNDP's UAE office.
He said the charity had responded both to the needs of UNDP country offices and to specific emergencies. Food parcels were distributed through the UNDP to locations including the Palestinian Territories and Palestinian refugee camps in the region, Iraq and the Comoro islands, an archipelago between Mozambique and Madagascar. There are continuing projects in Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Darfur, where the foundation is funding the repair and maintenance of wells.
From infrastructure to recovery and direct relief, the foundation has reached more than 50,000 families through its work with UNDP, Mr Abu Saifan said. "The foundation is very generous and we are now also in discussion on projects about the rehabilitation and recovery of Gaza," he said. "They are very active and we consider them one of the most understanding donors in responding to needs." The organisation was among the first to mobilise funds for Gaza's civilian population after Israel launched its recent offensive on the strip. Just days after the attacks began in late December, funds were transferred to UN agencies working to provide basic necessities.
The foundation has also responded to natural disasters. Last year it funded relief projects in Myanmar, helping fishing communities get back on their feet following hurricane Nargis. After the severe flooding in Yemen, it provided blankets, food, tents and other necessities for the thousands of victims. And following the earthquake in Pakistan, the foundation stepped in to provide 50,000 food packages, along with thousands of tents and blankets.
In Jerusalem, the foundation has taken over construction of the landmark Sheikh Khalifa Mosque in the Izzariya neighbourhood. After years of planning, the building is now about 70 per cent complete. And in the foundation's headquarters in Abu Dhabi sits a scale model of another project: the Sheikh Khalifa Hospital and Mosque, a white, domed complex that will soon grace Shymkent in southern Kazakhstan.