UAE: Pharmacist who cares for 200 kids with cancer, Down syndrome wins Dh1-million Hope Maker award

The remaining three finalists, including a woman who adopted 34 young girls, were all awarded the Dh1 million as well


Nasreen Abdulla

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Sheikkh Mohammed presents the trophy to Tala Al Khalil. Photo: Dubai Media Office
Sheikkh Mohammed presents the trophy to Tala Al Khalil. Photo: Dubai Media Office

Published: Sun 25 Feb 2024, 8:03 PM

Last updated: Mon 26 Feb 2024, 7:49 AM

An Iraqi pharmacist who cares for hundreds of youngsters with cancer and children of determination was crowned the winner of the most prestigious award for philanthropy in Dubai Sunday. Though Tala Al Khalil won the main Dh1-million Hope Maker title, three other finalists were awarded Dh1 million each, too, to continue their humanitarian work.

Tala received the highest number of votes during a glittering ceremony held at Coca Cola Arena in front of a crowd of over 12,000 people.

She began her journey as a Hope Maker in 2015, when she started receiving young cancer patients in a special ‘caravan’ at the Basra Children’s Hospital to help them overcome challenges.

The remaining three finalists - an amputee who brought together several others like him to form a world class football team, a YouTuber who uses his channel for good and a childless woman who adopted 34 young girls - were all awarded the Dh1 million as well.

All four finalists were recognized as Arab Hope Makers by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

The event kicked off with a video depicting the sights and stories of hope from Gaza.

“In our part of the world, hope making is life making. The only way we can overcome challenges is through collaborative efforts,” said Sheikh Mohammed. “Hope for a better future is what keeps people going. Every new generation bears the responsibility of creating a better reality in their communities. On the other hand, spreading despair is our major challenge, which is why we need to continue to nurture hope, optimism and positivity among the new generation.”

The 4th season of the largest initiative of its kind in the Arab region celebrating philanthropists was attended by government officials, celebrities and other dignitaries.

The ceremony also saw the participation of several Arab celebrities, including Ahlam, Hussain Al Jassmi and Assala, among others.

Tala Al Khalil. Photo: WAM
Tala Al Khalil. Photo: WAM

The inspiring stories

Tala’s initiative offered children with cancer a room for hope and optimism away from the hard reality of treatments and hospital wards. This was the start that inspired Tala to establish her Warriors Academy in 2018, to care for young people of determination who suffer various illnesses. Today, Tala personally cares for 200 children with Down Syndrome and cancer.

Offering much-needed psychological support to the children who now call her ‘mama’, Tala is a strong believer in the role of good mental health in enhancing immunity and the body’s ability to fight illness.

When 37-year-old Iraqi Dr. Mohamed Al Najjar lost his leg in 2014, the football fan turned his tragedy into a driver of change and hope. While studying for his PhD in England, he joined the Portsmouth football team for amputees. There he excelled and won the title of the club’s best player in 2019.

Upon returning to Iraq, he wanted to recreate this experience in his home country, and managed to form a football team of amputees that went from participating in international friendly matches to qualifying for the 2022 Amputee Football World Cup in Turkey just one year after its formation. Thanks to Al Najjar’s relentless effort, the Iraqi team now ranks 19th globally out of 70 amputee football teams

Al Najjar’s selfless drive to help amputees like him went beyond training and motivating the players, until the team was good enough to attract sponsors.

From Morocco, the audience met Youtuber Amine Imnir, whose social media account ‘Faysboki’ strives to improve living conditions for underprivileged Moroccans. Heading the AFTAS Society for Development and Solidarity, Amine has sponsored a number of humanitarian initiatives and aid campaigns in his country, documenting his efforts through his Faysboki TV channel to help spread the culture of humanitarian work and motivate others to join. AFTAS’s list of achievements includes distribution of over 1,000 solar panels, more than 4,500 food parcels to poor families including widows and orphans, financing 217 surgeries in 2023 and the planting of 2,800 fruitful trees.

Known as ‘the mother of orphans’ or ‘Mama Fathiya’, Egyptian hope maker Fathiya Al Mahmoud offers an inspiring example of selfless giving and nurturing hope. Failing to have children of her own since her marriage 30 years ago, she decided in 2005 to adopt 34 orphan girls. With the aid of her husband, they founded a society named A Touch of Hope to care for orphans, caring for raising, educating and inspiring 34 girls without any outside help.

Without letting the challenges of raising so many girls bog her down, Fathiya dived deep into the world of nurturing children and how to care for girls’ physical and mental needs. In addition to their work in caring for orphans, Fathiya and her husband established a charity hospital that offers free healthcare to orphans and people of determination.

Evaluation criteria

Operating under the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives (MBRGI), the 4th edition of Hope Makers initiative attracted over 58,000 applications from across the region.

Contributions to the 4th edition of the initiative covered its various themes of community service, humanitarian aid and relief, spreading education and knowledge, empowering youth, Inspiring Stories, Health and Fighting Disease and Arts and Culture among others.

All nominations were subject to extensive evaluations according to several criteria that determined the winners for this season.

Fight against despair

Sheikh Mohammed first launched the Hope Makers initiative in 2017, when he posted on his official social media accounts, offering a reward of Dh 1 million for the job of Hope Maker.

The key mission of the initiative is to spread hope to support the fight against despair, cultivate optimism and instill a culture of giving that helps change makers translate their ideas and ambitions into reality on the ground. It targets all Arab individuals and institutions who have creative and impactful projects, programmes, campaigns or initiatives that aim to make a positive change and enhance the stability and social solidarity across Arab communities.


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