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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Our country works quietly all the time to build a better life for people all over the world

The generosity of the UAE and of leaders is recognised here, but receives less attention globally than it might

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, helped the residents of Godolphin Cross to buy a redundant chapel.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, helped the residents of Godolphin Cross to buy a redundant chapel.

A couple of weeks ago, Godolphin Cross, a small village in the English county of Cornwall, hit the headlines in Britain and around the globe. The reason, of course, was the donation by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, to enable the villagers to buy a redundant chapel. Godolphin Cross has already lost its pub and shops. The chapel had become the only place where villagers could meet – its only community centre. Its owners, though, were faced with the need to raise more funds, so the chapel was put up for sale.

Local inhabitants began fund-raising, but the target, of around £100,000 (about half a million dirhams), was daunting. Then one villager thought of appealing to Sheikh Mohammed. Nearby Godolphin House, after all, had been the home of the Godolphin Arabian, one of the ancestors of today’s thoroughbred racing horses, while Sheikh Mohammed’s own stables bear the Godolphin name.

Noting last November a mention of the fund-raising campaign and the intention of appealing to Sheikh Mohammed, I drew it to the attention of The National. An article followed, which helped to bring the appeal to Sheikh Mohammed’s attention and a sum sufficient to allow the villagers to buy their chapel has now arrived.

It’s a heart-warming story, one which has attracted more positive publicity for the UAE in Britain than anything else for years. The villagers are delighted. The gift has saved the very heart of their community life.

One commented: “At a time when Muslims are being villainised for the actions of a few evil people, it’s nice to see one being recognised for his generosity.” Talking to local radio, the chairman of the village’s community association added that the donation “was helping people in places like Cornwall to see a bigger and a better picture".

There’s much truth in that.

The generosity and philanthropy of the UAE and its leaders is recognised here, but receives less attention globally than it might. When a gift is targeted at a particular community overseas, however, its memory will live on for years within that community. Many such gifts have been made without attracting such publicity – but the gratitude of the recipients is palpable when one runs across them.

A few summers ago, my family and I visited a village in another English county, Sussex. Seeing our UAE passports, the hotel owner launched into a paean of praise for another leading Emirati, who owns a house nearby. Hearing a few years ago that the local council was raising funds to improve its children’s playground, he quietly sent a substantial cheque, with the instruction that the money be used for the playground, for nothing else. That village now has one of the best playgrounds in the county.

Similar gratitude is to be found among the inhabitants of the 13th-century Haghartsin Monastery in Armenia and those who live nearby. On its walls, there’s a plaque expressing gratitude to Dr Sheikh Sultan Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah, who funded its entire restoration.

I’ve always been impressed by the UAE’s huge donations towards medical research and disease prevention, to the construction in developing countries of major infrastructure projects and so on. They’re urgently needed and of enormous long-term value.

I’m a great advocate too, though, of contributions which are much smaller in size, whether from the state or from people such as Sheikh Mohammed and Dr Sheikh Sultan, which provide a direct benefit to smaller communities, from Bangladesh to the Pacific Islands and from Armenia to little villages in Sussex and Cornwall.

There are many other places like Godolphin Cross where the local community owes something of long-term value to the UAE. We may hear of them only rarely, but they’re heart-warming evidence of the way in which this country contributes to the building of a better life for people all over the world.

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