Meet UAE's Zayed Award honorees: Kenyan ‘Mama’ with a big heart, humanitarian group from Italy

Shamsa Fadhil, who reforms children who joined criminal gangs, plans to use the $1 million awarded to make an even bigger difference in her community


Ashwani Kumar

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Photos by Ashwani
Photos by Ashwani

Published: Sat 4 Feb 2023, 10:18 PM

Shamsa Abubakar Fadhil, who nurtures delinquent youth in Kenya and promotes women empowerment, and Community of Sant’Egidio – a humanitarian group based in Rome, Italy, engaged in peace negotiations and supporting refugees, have been presented the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity.

Mama Shamsa

Since 2016, Shamsa Abubakar Fadhil, known as ‘Mama Shamsa’, has been on a mission to reform children who joined criminal gangs. And she has had a great amount of success with an increasing number of youngsters leaving the dark underworld to join her movement and earn their own livelihood instead of stealing and killing.

By partnering with educational institutions, Shamsa has ensured school dropouts and youth in criminal gangs get skill training to start their own business.

“That boy, won’t have time to take a knife and cut you. He will be busy earning money,” she told Khaleej Times.

It was a gory incident in 2016 when seven youngsters of a criminal gang were killed. The indifferent reaction from one of the mothers that triggered Shamsa to act.

“I come from a volatile area with 200 criminal gangs. The youngest child was around nine years and the oldest around 17. You could not even go to a shop. It was just that risky. One day seven kids were killed. One was my neighbour next door. And when the body arrived, as a neighbour, I went to console the mother, but she said: ‘Today I will sleep. I have not slept for three years because of this boy.’ And I was like, ‘What?’. Am I the only one feeling I did not do anything to stop this boy from living that life? If the mother is not feeling the pain of losing a son? What is happening to society? That's what triggered me. That boy was supposed to be in school.”

And hence started Shamsa’s movement to change lives.

“If you don't want your son, I want him, let him call me ‘Mama’. That's the name ‘Mama Shamsa’. Now, I have a very good support system now, especially from the government. I reduced the crime rate by 45 per cent. And that’s when the government came in. They found that whatever I was doing was giving results.”

During the Award given on the International Day of Human Fraternity, the honorees received a $1 million prize. And talking about receiving the Award, she revealed that initially she thought it was a scam as she got a phone call from the organisers.

“I’ve never even handled $100,000 of money. And I don’t even know them (Award judging committee). I was wondering who gave them my name? Who nominated me? They called me several times but until they sent me an email and addressed me as Mama Shamsa, is when I knew that these people were genuine. It was a moment of shock and disbelief.”

The Award, she said, is a challenge, to live up to the trust placed by the judging committee.

“I cannot even quantify how much this Award will bring positive change in my society. It will be huge. My first project is to ensure 100 youth groups. In each group, there are about between 25 to 35 youngsters who have alternative living skills, which will be monitored. And that will make a huge difference. They will live with hope and trust. And once the other youth who have not come out from their hideouts, when they see this impact, they will come out. This Award will enable me to make Sheikh Zayed visible in my country and in Africa.”

Community of Sant’Egidio

For more than three decades, the Community of Sant’Egidio has been supporting homeless people, terminally ill and HIV/AIDS patients, refugees and victims of war.

Mario Giro, representing the humanitarian group, underlined that getting the Award has been inspiring. “In this world of conflict and divisions, the Award is a game-changer. It is spreading the message to the word that coexistence is possible.”

“The work of the Community of Sant’Egidio is spread across 70 countries. We have been dedicated to inter-religious dialogue for the past 30 years. We have been instrumental in different peace initiatives and dialogues among Christians, Jews and Muslims. Also, our work through the humanitarian corridors, that means, for the refugees, saving Syrian refugees from war,” he said, noting that winning the Award and the prize money will help to enhance their humanitarian work.

“In the last 2 years, we have freed around 6,000 people from Syria. We want to convince the EU to open humanitarian corridors to all of Europe. We will use the money for humanitarian corridors and for the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa.”

The Community has 70,000 volunteers but Giro said that any number of hands will never be enough.

“I make an open call for volunteers. We have a lot of Muslim volunteers too, not just Christians.”


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