|20 February, 2020

Sheikh Mohammed crowns first Emirati Arab Hope Maker

Ahmed Al Falasi was recognised for his tireless efforts to refurbish kidney dialysis centres in Africa

Prime Minister and Vice-President of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum attends opening session of the GlobalWomensForum. Image courtesy Dubai Media Office Twitter handle. Image used for illustrative purpose.

Prime Minister and Vice-President of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum attends opening session of the GlobalWomensForum. Image courtesy Dubai Media Office Twitter handle. Image used for illustrative purpose.

UAE -  For the first time since inception, an Emirati national been crowned Arab Hope Maker 2020. Beating five impressive finalists, the 60-year-old Ahmed Al Falasi, an Emirati businessman has been awarded Dh1 million at a glittering grand finale ceremony at the Coca- Cola arena on Thursday, February 20.

He received the award from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, making him the first ever Emirati to be awarded the title and to be nominated.

Falasi was recognised for his tireless efforts to refurbish kidney dialysis centres in Africa and establishes advanced ones. He also supports newborns with incubators and provides for the disadvantaged along with his wife and daughter. "My wife and daughter are my main companions on his humanitarian missions," said Al Falasi.

The family relies on their own personal funding to support their initiative. After giving the prize to Falasi, Sheikh Mohammed said, "To me, all five of them are winners."

Each of the five finalists were awarded Dh1 million each. The finalists were Saudi national Ali Al Ghamdi, Egyptian Dr Mujahed Mustafa, Libyan - American Mohamed Bzeek, and American- Palestinian Steve Sosebee, President and CEO of the Palestine Children's Relief Fund (PCRF).

Several thousands of people attended the grand finale event, and the winner was announced following an audience voting round.

Falasi's story

Ahmed Al Falasi journey into a life of humanitarian efforts began following the death of his mother due to kidney failure. She had struggled for years during her treatment and kidney dialysis. On a visit to Kenya, he was shocked to find ragged beds and patients on the waiting list for months before they receive their kidney dialysis.

One bed sometimes accommodated two people at once. "I once saw a woman and felt she is my mother telling me that she's sick and she needs to do her dialysis. These people are less fortunate and I wonder how they live like this?" Al Falasi refurbished the Coast General Hospital in Kenya's Mombasa, transforming it into one of the most advanced medical facilities in Kenya. He prepared a kidney dialysis section that supports 8,000 patients. He also established a new born unit with 570 beds and incubators to benefit 17,000 newborns every month.

He also constructed wells and houses for people affected by floods in Mombasa. Al Falasi's work has also left a mark in China after he established a school, an orphanage and a fund to support families.

Arab Hope Makers finalists

The third edition of the Arab Hope Makers initiative drew a whopping 92,000 entries from 38 countries, including 15 Arab countries among which Egypt topped the list of participations and 23 Western countries led by Germany in terms of participations. The five finalists were from UAE, Libyan- American, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and American- Palestinian.

The five finalists were recognised for their exemplary contributions and humanitarian work within the Arab world and African countries.

Ali Al Ghamdi

Nationality: Saudi Arabia

Location: All around Africa

Experience: Around Africa

Besides establishing three schools that benefit over 1,200 students, including determined ones, Al Ghamdi helped construct 21 orphanages.

After years of suffering difficulties in conceiving, Al Ghamdi's journey with orphans started when his wife gave birth to twins. He had adopted his son Faris at his homeland Saudi Arabia, and after he got twins, he started travelling across Africa to support orphans where hunger and malnutrition were killing thousands of tiny-tots.

"People think dying of hunger is a myth, but I swear I had many children dying in my arms."

Faris, his foster child, joins him in his trips and says "I'm an orphan like them. And I have been blessed with a father and mother who have raised me like their own."

Al Ghamdi established a programme to connect orphans with alternative families that shelters for them. He supports those families with tonnes of food items every month. Al Ghamdi uses his own personal funding, usually relying on his end-of-service gratuity. He doesn't own a car nor a house, but leads his life in a rented apartment in the suburb.

Dr. Mujahed Mustafa, general surgeon

Age: 60

Nationality: Egyptian

Location: Tala village, Beni Suef Governate, Egypt

Experience: over 35 years

Known as the doctor of the poor, Dr Mujahed Mustafa has dedicated his life to combating poverty and illness in his hometown Bani Suef, located in the South of Cairo.

After graduating, Mustafa was offered a job at the esteemed Kasr Al Ainy Hospital, a research and teaching hospital in Cairo, Egypt. He rejected the offer and chose to stay at Tala village of Bani Suef Governate, treating his patients for only 10 Egyptian pounds (Dh2). People who cannot afford the treatment are given free checkups and medicines.

Mustafa's services are offered where medical facilities across Egypt usually charge patients up to 300 Egyptian pounds (Dh70) for only checkup. On a daily basis, Mustafa sees 200-250 patients. He has performed more than 50,000 free surgeries. He treats 60,000 patients annually, providing care for over two million patients over the past 30 years.

Mustafa also sponsored the education of 1,500 students from less fortunate families. Before school starts, he buys them uniforms and shoes because they don't feel orphans. He donates 200,000 bread for poor people. The Egyptian International Organization for Human Rights and Development honored him for his work.

Mohamed Bzeek, former engineer, now full-time caregiver to terminally-ill children

Age: 64

Nationality: Libyan-American

Location: Los Angeles

Experience: over 30 years

Mohamed Bzeek, father of a son with special needs, noticed the rising numbers of abandoned children due to their terminal illness.

He took it as his responsibility to raise them at his home, knowing that they need to feel loved, supported and cared for.

Over 22,000 children are banned every year due to their terminal illness in the United States. Bzeek says, "No one wants to deal with death. These children are born terminally ill and they needs a lot of care and medications, so no one wants them. No one wants to deal with this burden. They spend their life in the hospital until they die."

"The way parents leave their children is still beyond me. How do they live, sleep and eat knowing they left their children's behind?"

Bzeek has partaken proper training to enable him to provide the best care for his foster children. Over 30 years, he sheltered more than 80 terminally ill children at his home.

He is currently fostering a child with a life-threatening disease in her brain that made her lose her sight, hearing ability and mobility. "When I take these children, I consider them my own. I'm not a foster parent," he said. "Even if they don't hear or see me, I know they feel the care and love I give them." Bzeek's support and love often keeps the children alive. Bzeek relies on government support and crowdfunding campaigns to support his work.

Steve Sosebee, President and CEO of the Palestine Children's Relief Fund (PCRF)

Nationality: American, obtained the Palestinian nationality

Age: 53

Location: Ramallah, Palestine - Kent, Ohio

Experience: 25 years running the PCRF

In 1990, Steve Sosebee was working as a journalist when he met Mansour, 10, and Sabah, 11, Abu Sneineh from Hebron who were injured by a bombing of their home. He took them from the West Bank to Akron, Ohio for free medical care. They were the first kids to ever be sent to the USA for free medical care in the intifada.

Sosebee is an American who lives as a Palestinian in the West Bank with the same restrictions of movement that every Palestinian has to live under.

Sosebee then met a Palestinian woman named Huda al Masry, a social worker with the YMCA in Jerusalem. They married in 1993, and had two daughters, Jenna and Deema. Together they built the PCRF with many volunteers all over the world, and managed to send hundreds of children to the USA for free care.

Now 53 years old, Sosebee brought more than 5,000 doctors to Palestine who treated more than 25,000 patients in the West Bank and Gaza. The medical care he provides has changed the lives of over 2,000 children of the special needs and supplied over 40,000 prostheses.

In 2009, Huda passed away from cancer after a long battle, and Sosebee moved back with his daughters to Palestine where they built the first public pediatric cancer department named after her in Beit Jala Hospital in the West Bank that treats over 1,200 children annually. Another center was established in Gaza.

In 2016, he remarried Dr. Zeena Salman, a pediatric oncologist, and she also is dedicated to the lives of Arab children as a volunteer with the PCRF. The couple is working hard to continue saving children's lives in Palestine.

"There are sad and happy stories; sad because a lot of them are suffering things no child should have to suffer." He added, "When you live a life just for yourself, you feel empty and unfulfilled." Speaking in fluent Arabic, "The Palestine cause is for all people, not just the people of Palestine."


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