ABU DHABI // An Emirati philanthropist has donated Dh1 million - "a small gesture" - to the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology.
The retired General Mohammed Salem Bin Kardous al Ameri earmarked the gift announced yesterday for the Young Future Energy Leaders programme, which focuses on students and young professionals in the green energy field. His was the first donation to the institute by a private individual.
"We can't just sit back and expect the government to do everything for us," said Gen al Ameri. "Every able citizen has to take responsibility and invest in its young by investing in science and knowledge."
Speaking while on vacation with his family at a desert camp, he said: "I want this beautiful desert and all its animals and vegetation to survive for future generations."
The 55-year-old father of 20 children - 10 boys and 10 girls - called himself a "proud Bedouin" who was lucky to grow up in Al Ain in a "clean and healthy environment".
"It really bothers me to see how neglectful and how ignorant the new generations are about preserving their environment, and how they leave litter behind that hurts our animals and birds," he said. "There are too many spoiled youth around."
Recalling a recent camping trip with his family to the desert, he said seeing dead birds near a littered site left a lasting impression.
"I felt something had to be done," he said. "I try my best with my own children, making them clean up after themselves and being respectful of their environment, but that is not enough to save our precious desert."
A visit to Masdar City 10 days ago was enough to convince him of the importance of investing in the programme. "Engaging with and nurturing younger people, particularly in the field of renewable energy and sustainability, is vital for the future of the UAE and beyond," he said. "I like how this programme will target the young in their own language and cultivate them within their own culture and environment. My contribution is just a small gesture of what all of us can do."
The Young Future Energy Leaders programme helps to mentor future leaders in the fields of alternative energy by engaging them with the leaders of today.
The retired general first learned about Abu Dhabi's efforts in renewable energy during the World Future Energy Forum, an annual event in the capital, which gathers politicians, businessmen and scientists to discuss clean energy.
The Young Future Energy Leaders programme is part of the summit, which runs for four days this year and starts on January 17.
The delegates include the UN's top climate official, Christiana Figueres, and representatives from 11 countries, including Dr Farooq Abdullah, minister of new and renewable energy in India, Hassan Younes, minister of electricity and energy in Egypt, and Norbert Rottgen, Germany's federal environment minister.
Having spent some time in the US, where he befriended several farmers and watched how they lived, Gen al Ameri left impressed with how they "recycled" everything.
"It just makes more sense to recycle," he said. "We need to stop taking our luxury for granted and realise that we are destroying our habitat through all these chemicals and ignorance.
"I call on everyone to start thinking hard about investing now in renewable energy, because thinking about it tomorrow will be too late.
"Our region in the past gave birth to the world's greatest pioneers in science and knowledge. It is about time we start creating new pioneers we can be proud to call our own."