Every day for the last three days, Robert Katende has woken up in the morning thinking he will break the news of their beloved Hamda’s death to the orphans at the Smile Africa Children’s Foundation. But every day his courage has faltered.

Robert was the charity partner of late Emirati racer Hamda Taryam, who tragically passed away at the age of 24 during the early hours of Saturday.

“I have not gathered the courage to tell the children that someone who cooked for them, someone who cared for them so much is gone,” he said, speaking to Khaleej Times over a video call. “But I have to tell them. To be honest, I cannot believe it myself. From a sponsor, Hamda went far beyond and became my sister. I cannot believe she is gone.”

Robert is now preparing to make a trip to the UAE for his ‘sister’. “She always used to tell me that if something ever happened to her, she wanted me to do certain things,” he said. “Now, I will come to the UAE to honour her wishes. I want to do my best to remember her in the best possible way.”

Hamda, one of the UAE’s first female drag racers, rose to fame as the star of the Netflix show 'The Fastest'. The philanthropist used a large part of her earnings and savings to build a school and a health centre in Uganda among other charitable activities.

Started with a hi

Robert said his relationship with Hamda started with a simple hi over Instagram. “I post about the work we do at Smile Africa on Instagram,” he said. “She once messaged me a 'hi' and then said she would like to contribute some money for food to the centre.”

What started as a one-time contribution soon became more. “While food is important, I always encourage our donors to give something that will last,” he said. “So when Hamda wanted to donate more, I encouraged her to build a classroom. That classroom now educates over 500 children every year.”

Hamda then went on to build a health centre in the community, a move that Robert says has helped thousands of people. “What I liked most about her was her speed of action,” he said, “As soon as we discussed something, she wanted it implemented. She would say ‘Khalas Robert, let’s do it’ and she immediately swung into action. There was never a delay in her plans.”

He then invited her to visit Uganda to see the impact of her actions.

Visiting Uganda

During her first visit, Hamda officially inaugurated the classroom and health centre, which was already functional. She stayed a few days and returned.

But it was in 2023 that she spent an extensive amount of time with the children of Smile foundation. “She visited a couple of times last year and each time she stayed for a few days,” recalled Robert. “And that is when she became like a family to us. She went into the kitchen and cooked for the children. She washed their clothes. She took care of them like they were her own children. The millions of memories that we have from during that time will live on forever.”

Robert says that she had a lot of plans for the foundation. “She wanted to build a vocational centre that would help hundreds of youngsters and adults,” he said. “She also wanted to build a farm to make the school self-sufficient. She wanted to pave the area around the health centre and build a community health centre.”

On Sunday, Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah visited Hamda’s family and allocated Dh1 million through Sharjah Charity Association to complete the projects she began in Uganda.

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