For Egyptian Fathiya Al Mahmoud, who was childless for over three decades, the biggest dream of her life was becoming a mother. Today, she is Mama Fathiya to 34 orphaned girls, some of whom came to her on the verge of death but who she nursed back to life with care and compassion. On Sunday, she became one of the four finalists of the Arab Hope Maker, winning Dh1 million to continue her work.

“Some of my children are in the last year of high school,” she said, while accepting her award. “This money will help me make sure they have the opportunity to pursue their higher education. I dream of seeing them excel in medical school, engineering, or whatever field they are good at. I want to see them achieve their aspirations and build fulfilling lives.”

Fathiya’s initial plan was to bring home a couple of orphan girls, but fate had something else in store. She was unexpectedly given the opportunity to meet 21 girls, and later, additional groups of 6 and 7 girls. With no more than wooden beds and a lack of basic necessities, the first night was filled with tears from the toddlers.

However, Fathiya remained undeterred by the challenges and dedicated herself to understanding the physical and emotional needs of each child. “They’re the ones that gave me hope, the motherhood that they gave me it erased all the challenges,” Fathiya told Khaleej Times

Reflecting on her experience, she emphasised on the profound impact that the girls have had on her life. She stated, "I gave them love and affection, and in return, they gave me the motherhood that I was deprived of for 35 years. They made me a mom."

Walking into a new future

Another one of the finalists was Dr Mohamed Al Najjar, who continues to inspire and drive a large group of youngsters in Iraq. When the 37-year-old lost his leg in 2014, he turned the tragedy around by participating in amputee football. While studying for his PhD in England, he joined the Portsmouth team bagging the title of the club’s best player in 2019.

Upon returning to Iraq, he wanted to recreate this experience in his home country but he did not know how to find fellow amputees. “There is no registry or any sort of database,” he said. “But I knew there were many amputees because of the war and terrorist attacks. I knew this sport would help them recover. I tried to speak to people and hospitals but it wasn’t getting me anywhere. I was very close to giving up.”

That is when Dr Al Najjar hit upon an idea – to get in touch with prosthetic centres in the area. “I put up my posters there and convinced them to post on social media,” he said. “The very first day, I started to get a lot of calls. We started straight away.”

He rented football pitches in each city and invited those who wanted to play, all the time paying out of his own pocket. “I started teaching them the rules and then it just grew,” he said. He managed to get his team to qualify for the 2022 Amputee Football World Cup in Turkey just one year after its formation. Due to his relentless efforts, the Iraqi team now ranks 19th globally out of 70 amputee football teams.

However, this did not come without its own set of challenges. “The biggest obstacle was the financial burden,” he said. “We don’t have any funds. But the players love it and they scrape together enough money for transportation and other costs. Even I try to help. This money that I won today will be a big relief for all the issues we have faced on a regular basis.”

One of the members of his team, a former Iraqi soldier said that Al Najjar’s efforts changed his life. “After losing my leg, I stopped going out of my house,” he said. “But when I heard about the team for amputees, I felt life has given me another chance.” Several members of his team were at the event on Sunday to witness him picking up his award.

Making a change from the age of 16

Tala Al Khalil’s journey to being a hope maker began at the age of 16 when she experienced the loss of a 5-year-old child to cancer in the hospital she was volunteering in. This heartbreaking event ignited a spark within her, driving her to help others facing similar battles. She set up a special ‘caravan’ at the Basra Children’s Hospital to help them overcome challenges associated with their illness.

She was crowned the winner of the Arab Hope Maker award by public voting. She hopes that the money she receives will help the children for a better future. “I believe people's perspectives towards children in need have to change,” she said, speaking to Khaleej Times after the event. “When we genuinely believe in their potential, we unlock the ability to make a significant impact in their lives.”

Her belief in making a difference has inspired her to embark on an ambitious project: the construction of a dedicated facility in Iraq to serve as a shelter, development centre, and support hub for children with special needs.

Recognising the multitude of challenges faced by children in Iraq, Tala envisions a place where each child's unique abilities and talents can flourish. Her vision includes establishing specialised factories that cater to individual hobbies and skills, providing opportunities for these children to grow, learn, and contribute to society.

Over the years, she has mourned the loss of 150 children to cancer, motivating her to actively seek out and support children in need. She regularly visits hospital and scours the streets looking for abandoned youngsters and gives them a better life. Currently, Tala personally cares for 200 children with Down Syndrome and cancer.

'Philanthropic' influencer

A 'philanthropic' influencer, Amine Imnir uses his social media channel Faysboki to provide not just lifesaving aid but also hope to hundreds of underprivileged people in his hometown in Morocco.

Heading the AFTAS Society for Development and Solidarity, Imnir’s activities include providing food baskets, digging wells and providing sacrificial animals to families who cannot afford it.

He has also financed 217 life-altering surgeries and planted 2,800 fruit trees. On his YouTube channel Imnir documents his missions, some of which includes him driving into remote corners of Morocco and providing families with aid. In 2023, Imnir helped several local communities by building a bridge over a valley and connecting three flood-prone areas.

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