x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

UAE pledges $1m for tornado victims

Funds to buy laptops for pupils in Missouri who lost their school

The UAE has pledged up to US$1 million to provide laptops for students in a US city devastated by a tornado this year.

Officials with the UAE Embassy in Washington said they would donate $500,000 (Dh1.8m) towards new Apple computers for secondary students in Joplin, Missouri, and up to $500,000 more to match similar donations.

The decision was made by embassy officials after the May 22 tornado killed 160 people in the city and injured hundreds more.

Joplin's only secondary school was destroyed, along with many homes and businesses.

"This event stood out because it was one of the deadliest tornadoes in recent memory, and in the days after the tragedy we saw that people had started to rebuild right away," said Dana Al Marashi, who heads the embassy's heritage and social affairs department.

"When we saw the strength of these people, who did not sit back and feel sorry for themselves, we immediately decided that we should do something to help."

It is not the first time the UAE has pledged money to US relief efforts. The country donated $100m after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The embassy approached Joplin officials about a financial contribution and were directed to the school, which has been finalising plans to begin the academic year with classes in a converted department store.

Angie Besendorfer, the school district's assistant superintendent, said the money would be used as part of a broader initiative to replace textbooks with a computer for each student.

The high school's 2,200 students will receive their laptops next week.

"We have been dreaming of building a new high school that would prepare students for a world that does not exist yet, and this gift has helped to rocket ahead and make that happen," Ms Besendorfer said.

Ms Al Marashi, who spent a few days in Joplin to survey the damage, met officials and students over the possibility of a cultural exchange programme between the embassy and the school.

Embassy officials will continue to visit the city throughout autumn, she said.

"These students have been through and witnessed a lot, and they have been very grateful for the difference this will make to them, so we are hoping this will be the start of a new relationship," Ms Al Marashi said.

econroy@thenational.ae