DUBAI // When Bilkis Akter was told she would be meeting the man who gave her a reason to dream, she announced it to the world on Facebook.
"I told all my friends that Sheikh Nahyan would be visiting us," the Bangladeshi pupil said.
Bilkis and six other disadvantaged children from Bangladesh received sponsorship from the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, to attend school in Dubai. One of the children could not take up the offer.
Not long ago, the children did not even have birth certificates. Now, thanks to funding from Sheikh Nahyan and The Maria Project, an off-shoot of The Dhaka Project initiated by the former Emirates Airline flight attendant Maria Conceicao, they live in Dubai and attend Uptown High School.
The children, who joined the Taaleem-owned school on January 3, met their sponsor for the first time yesterday.
"We can all achieve our goals if we have confidence in ourselves," Sheikh Nahyan told the children.
"Aim high, focus, work hard and there is no limit to what you can achieve."
Milon Mia, who was employed as an errands boy in a Dhaka store before The Dhaka Project intervened, took those words to heart. He said he wanted to become a pilot.
"Before, the only ambition I had was to become a shopkeeper because that was all I knew," he said. "Now, my scale of thinking has changed and I want to earn enough to get my parents out of the slums."
The children's story could inspire further success in the country for Ms Conceicao's work, with the Red Crescent now agreeing to support The Maria Cristina Foundation in Bangladesh.
"We will help them collect funds and enable UAE donors to contribute to the projects through us," said Muhammed Abdullah Alhaj al Zaroni, the Dubai manager of the UAE Red Crescent.
This story has been amended since original publication to reflect that the Red Crescent is supporting the Maria Cristina Foundation in Bangladesh. Ms Conceicao conducts all her charity initiatives for children under the Maria Cristina Foundation.