x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Charity honours its school counsellors

A ceremony in Sharjah recognises hundreds who have helped President's programme to give assistance to needy students.

Walid al Zaabi holds his certificate during the honouring organised by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, at the American University of Sharjah.
Walid al Zaabi holds his certificate during the honouring organised by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, at the American University of Sharjah.

SHARJAH // For many years, Khaled Ezzat was the one person Walid al Zaabi knew he could turn to if he needed guidance or someone he could rely on outside his family. After leaving school in the east coast town of Kalba, Mr al Zaabi enrolled at university to study social work, inspired by his former school counsellor.

Mr al Zaabi, 29, later returned to his hometown to join Mr Ezzat as a counsellor at the Abu Ayoub al Ansari School and now guides young people himself. Both men were among more than 600 school counsellors from Dubai, Ras al Khaimah, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al Qaiwain and Fujairah who were honoured yesterday for their commitment to their students. All were part of a programme launched last year by the Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Charity Foundation to help needy pupils with the costs of schooling.

"I am so proud of Walid," said Mr Ezzat, a 50-year-old Egyptian who has lived in the UAE since 1969, "especially because we are being honoured at the same time." Over the past year, the programme has provided 30,000 students in 700 schools with books, uniforms, bags and other items. Today a similar ceremony will be held in Al Gharbia, before moving to Al Ain tomorrow and Abu Dhabi a week later. In all, more than 1,000 men and women will be recognised for their work.

"They have been like a courier between us," said a spokesman for the foundation. "Without them we could never have reached all of those students." According to Mohammed al Khoori, the foundation's executive director, the beneficiaries included both Emirati students and others within the state school system. "We consider these young people as our students and we have to support them," he said. "It is our duty."

The schools were asked to identify their most needy students, and the names were given to the foundation. "We chose the students who most needed help," said Mr al Zaabi. "We provided them with coupons or clothes or whatever they need." As well as providing coupons for school essentials, the programme also covered fees for some students and gave special assistance to orphans. Nour Abdeen, who works at a school in Deira, has more than 180 students who qualified for help from the foundation.

"We helped all of these children with clothes and sometimes money," she said. "Some of their parents had died or they are from poor families, both from the UAE and other countries." The men and women who gathered yesterday at the main auditorium at the American University of Sharjah each took to the stage to receive awards or certificates. Mohammed Fareed, a 38-year-old Egyptian counsellor working at Saadiya School in Dubai, described working to support vulnerable children is "fantastic".

"All our work is to put a smile on the faces of our students," he said. Yousri Mohammed, a counsellor from Watan al Arabi School outside Dubai, echoed his sentiments. "My job is to make sure that every student is at the same level," he said. Mr Mohammed is responsible for 25 needy students in his school, some of whom are orphans. "It is a wonderful idea - this gives students a real push for education, which is the most important thing," he said.

The foundation was established in mid-2007 and began funding projects last year. Its next big project will provide 40,000 low-income families across the country with food for two weeks in July. zconstantine@thenational.ae