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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Arab Hope Makers: Selfless acts give a glimmer of hope in despair

The awards and academy lend optimism in a region blighted by violence and conflict

On Tuesday, the Dh1m Arab Hope Makers prize went to Mahmoud Waheed,  whose Cairo-based charity has helped homeless people rebuild their lives. Reem Mohammed / The National
On Tuesday, the Dh1m Arab Hope Makers prize went to Mahmoud Waheed,  whose Cairo-based charity has helped homeless people rebuild their lives. Reem Mohammed / The National

When Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf's soaring voice filled the auditorium with a stirring rendition of Mawtini, Palestine's de facto national anthem, accompanied by a backdrop of images of Jerusalem, it marked a watershed moment. Coming in the wake of weeks of protests and violence in his homeland, his performance at the Arab Hope Makers award ceremony was symbolic of the power of uniting in the face of adversity; a coming together when it seems all hope has been sacrificed. Nor was it lost on the audience that the awards took place on the bloodiest day in Gaza since 2014. It is all too easy to give up hope when parts of the Arab world are fractured by seemingly interminable war and soaked in the blood of innocent civilians. Syria remains a battleground for the desperate and displaced. Yemen is besieged by Iran-backed Houthi militias and Israel continues to dispossess Palestinians of their land. To counteract the narrative, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, launched the Arab Hope Makers award last year, an initiative to recognise ordinary Arabs, whose acts of selflessness made them unsung heroes and shone a light in the face of unremitting pessimism. That spirit of optimism was evident in prizewinner Mahmoud Wahid, a 35-year-old Egyptian whose Cairo-based charity helps homeless people in Egypt rebuild their shattered lives.

Nor was he alone. There were a staggering 87,000 participants this year from 15 Arab countries, giving us 87,000 reasons to hope. The shortlist of five nominees, all awarded Dh1 million, included a Sudanese activist who has fed more than 40 million hungry schoolchildren, an Iraqi humanitarian worker who has improved the lives of more than 100,000 people, an Egyptian journalist who campaigned for female prisoners and a Kuwaiti mother who supported more than 350,000 refugees.

Sheikh Mohammed took the opportunity to announce the creation of the Dh50 million Hope Makers Academy to support humanitarian projects. The UAE, he once wrote, “will never feel satisfied until all Arabs prosper, achieve and excel”. The awards and academy are just two stepping stones in achieving that goal.