Many philanthropists in the world wait until the last decades of their lives to give back to society; but there are some who begin working for its betterment at a very early age. One such philanthropist is Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Dubai's Crown Prince and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council (DEC).
Appointed to the role of Crown Prince this day one year ago, Sheikh Hamdan is among today's most benevolent and generous donors, a man who has pledged to help the unfortunate. He comes from a family of great philanthropists, who have helped those in dire need. Having inherited such a big-hearted legacy, Sheikh Hamdan came into this role naturally and feels strongly about issues that affect humanity. Whether it's helping people in war-ravaged Gaza, the blind or the underprivileged children around the world, Sheikh Hamdan is a man who endlessly strives to work for his fellowmen.
It is often said by people who mean well that working with people with special needs "requires the patience of a saint". Elevating the status of someone who works with people with special needs to that of a saint is a not-so-subtle way of saying that the work is so challenging that it requires extra human effort. At the same time, it establishes the justification for not even considering such work.
Sheikh Hamdan, who has a special place in his heart for people with special needs, has proved that this is not the right thinking and each member of society is capable of working and helping the physically disabled, leading the blind, comforting the emotionally disturbed, and tending the sick.
By setting an example for us, he has shown it is human compassion that is required to fit into this role – something that most of us have but we are not ready to acknowledge.
His involvement with The Dubai Autism Centre, which was established under his patronage, shows his compassion towards society. The organisation is a not-for-profit organisation that offers therapeutic, counselling and educational services to children affected by autism, their families and caregivers.
Besides his regular work at The Dubai Autism Centre, Sheikh Hamdan gets involved with any projects that are for the betterment of people with special needs. Most recently, he became involved in a housing project for people with special needs. Just a few days back, he was busy inspecting a Dhs85 million housing project for these citizens of the country.
The project, which replaced the Mushrif locality, is being carried out by the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Housing Establishment in implementation of instructions given by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai. The inspections could have been carried out by other officials but Sheikh Hamdan himself took a detailed note of the infrastructure and service facilities designed to meet demands of inhabitants for electricity, water, road and drainage.
He also inquired on the scope and components of the project in terms of architectural designs, total area and costs.
Sheikh Hamdan believes that all members of society should get the right to live life in a privileged way. He therefore attended the UAE's largest mass wedding ceremony named O'rs Al Amal, or the Wedding of Hope, where 101 couples with special needs tied the marital knot.
The weddings not only brought happiness and hope to the lives of people with special needs, but also reflected the commitment shown by Sheikh Hamdan and the Royal Family to the noble cause.
Sheikh Hamdan is also one of the ambassadors of Dubai Cares, the world's largest charitable establishment solely devoted to improving primary education for underprivileged children.
Dubai Cares works on primary education programmes based on its value chain of education, which includes the building of new school facilities; rehabilitating existing damaged school premises; ensuring safe water and proper sanitation facilities; distributing school supply materials; improving nutritional intake and conducting medical check-up for students and teachers; and providing training and workshops to adequately empower teachers and principals. The organisation supports "Save the Children", a leading independent organisation creating lasting change for children in need around the world.
Dubai Cares is founded on the vision of Sheikh Mohammed, who believes that education is the best long-term solution to combat poverty and that educating children, especially girls, is a key component to fighting the global "cycle of poverty" and this vision is carried forward by Sheikh Hamdan.
Sheikh Hamdan is also a big supporter of Noor Dubai, an initiative that aims to help the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) in achieving their goals outlined in Vision 2020: the Right to Sight.
Noor Dubai will treat one million people suffering from curable blindness and visual impairment in developing countries. A strong supporter and advocate of the noble case, Sheikh Hamdan is present at all occasions and events that help promote this initiative.
The extremely tragic humanitarian situation of the children in Gaza has shocked everyone around the world. The gory but real pictures from the war-torn region show traumatised children. They feel the world neglects them and does not care about them. These feelings are justified as bombs impound their homes and land but even when things are adverse, there are many people in the world fighting for their cause.
Sheikh Hamdan is one such man. To help people in Gaza, the UAE launched many nationwide donation campaigns and Sheikh Hamdan has been a part of it all along. He initiated a charity drive under the slogan "Children in Gaza are our children", which aims to collect donations from people in Dubai to provide assistance to Palestinian children.
The move was one of the many activities being initiated in the country in response to the directives of UAE President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Sheikh Mohammed, to support the Palestinian people. The event was observed in co-ordination with various government departments in the emirate of Dubai and reflected the feelings of the Emirati society towards the displaced people of Palestine in Gaza.
As part of the campaign and on the directive of Sheikh Hamdan, Dubai Customs donated Dh725,000 to Gaza children. Dubai Municipality also organised "Charity dish in solidarity with the children of Gaza". All the proceeds from the charity dish would be sent to the children of Gaza.
Dubai Police personnel donated more than Dh2 million to support this campaign. These are some examples that prove the charity drive initiated by Sheikh Hamdan was a real success and the kind of positive influence he has on his people.
Under the wise guidance of Sheikh Hamdan, Dubai Cares has also launched programmes to help children in Gaza. "Volunteer for the Gaza Children programme", launched by Dubai Cares has received overwhelming response with hundreds of residents of all ages and different nationalities participating in its activities.
The organisation in a joint mission with La Chaine de L'Espoir is also on a medical and surgical mission in the Gaza Strip to provide emergency medical care to children injured during the recent war. Since the ceasefire ending the 22-day war, the seven-member medical team has identified more than 100 cases of children requiring urgent surgical intervention, particularly in the area of cardiac surgery. The mission plans to remain in Gaza for a minimum of one month to help as many injured children as possible.
Dubai Cares' medical intervention in Gaza is an isolated departure from its mandate of providing primary education in the developing world and was necessitated by the urgent nature precipitated by the war in Gaza.