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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

UAE Portrait of a Nation: a mother of mercy caring for 80,000 children

Jumana Abu-Hannoud answered the call of SOS Children's Villages to offer vital support to needy youngsters

Jumana Abu-Hannoud, Managing Director of the Gulf office of SOS Children's Villages, has made it her mission in life to help needy youngsters.  Pawan Singh / The National 
Jumana Abu-Hannoud, Managing Director of the Gulf office of SOS Children's Villages, has made it her mission in life to help needy youngsters.  Pawan Singh / The National 

Mother-on-a mission Jumana Abu-Hannoud feels like she has more than 80,000 children of her own – two girls she gave birth to and the tens of thousands she “gets up for" every morning.

And she wouldn't have it any other way.

Life changed forever for the 41-year-old when she answered the call to help establish a Dubai office for the global humanitarian organisation, SOS Children's Villages, in 2014.

The charity has offered shelter and support to needy children and young people displaced by conflict and disaster for more than 50 years in countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and ­Jordan, and much of their good work is guided right here in the UAE.

Ms Abu-Hannoud was eager to help and started out as an advisor, before quickly rising the ranks to take on her current role of managing director of the Gulf Area Office of the charitable body.

Her life of giving was inspired by her own experiences of growing up in the Middle East in the 1980s.

Ms Abu-Hannoud was born in Dubai before moving to Jordan, the homeland of her family, at the age of two.

She said witnessing troubles in the Palestine and Lebanon and during the Gulf War shaped her belief that her life could never be fulfilled while others were suffering.

“I recall teachers at my school in Amman requesting pupils to make space for a child who had to move in just an overnight during the Gulf War. Some of those pupils are still some of my best friends until today.”

Ms Abu-Hannoud is determined to help ensure a generation is not lost to the horrors of conflict, disasters and abuse.

“We act with a purpose to help youngsters who have been robbed of the innocence of their childhood due to violence, negligence and conflict,” said Ms Abu-Hannoud.

“SOS Children’s Villages offers shelter and supports needy children. We provide family-based care for orphans, abandoned children and those who can no longer live with their parents for various reasons.

“We provide love and support in a family based environment. We give a family message; a message of community, driven by our vision for children to grow up with trust, care and love.”

As well as leading efforts from Dubai, Mrs Abu-Hannoud regularly visits villages in other countries where the support of SOS Children's Villages is needed most.

She believes the intervention of the organisation can help shape young lives and set them on a path towards a brighter future.

“By providing children with shelter and education, they become balanced, responsible adults who can lead their own path in life.

“When people ask me how many children I have, I say I have 80,002, two that I have birth to and 80,000 that I get up for in the morning.”

The charity leads family strengthening initiatives to provide all kind of assistance to children who can no longer live with their parents.

“The family strengthening programmes aims to prevent child abandonment. Groups of orphaned or abandoned children are being cared for welcoming family homes by caring women who dedicated their lives for this cause.”

Ms Abu Hannoud said that SOS mothers - who act as carers for children in need of shelter and support - are chosen carefully.

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She is calling on others to broaden their horizons and adopt a global view when it comes to helping others.

“If we continue living ordinarily and ignoring others' issues and problems just because it took place in another part of the world, then the world will not be changed for the better.

“There is no better place to start with than by helping future generations.”

Ms Abu-Hannoud comes from a family involved in the humanitarian and public service field. She served as Chief of Staff for Princess Haya of Jordan, wife of the Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid in 2004.

During her five-year tenure with Princess Haya, Ms Abu Hannoud started as communications director and was at the heart of the development of several national, regional and international strategies and projects in the fields of health, education, social development, peace and humanitarian aid.

She was appointed as a member of the board of directors of the International Humanitarian City (IHC), a dedicated free zone authority of the Dubai Government that facilitates humanitarian aid and development work.

She was also tasked with the restructuring and transitional management of the IHC for two years, during which she also managed the humanitarian portfolio of Princess Haya as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador and Messenger of Peace.

She also worked as a Public Information Officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and supported the SOS International Children’s Villages as a volunteer for three years prior to joining the organisation as the managing director of the Gulf Area Office.

Having dedicated her career to helping others in need, Mrs Abu Hannoud won the 2017 Humanitarian Woman of the Year and Emirates Woman’s Woman of the Year Award.

Her children - all 80,002 of them - are grateful she chose to dedicate her life to them.