By Dana Al Marashi, Head of Cultural Diplomacy
On Easter, I came across an Instagram post on an initiative organized by a Dubai-based vintage motor scooter club to collect and distribute toys and care packages to children in hospitals throughout the emirate. A local radio station announced it on air and within 48 hours the station and club were overwhelmed with calls asking to participate and donate. Emiratis and expats showed up with their motorcycles, scooters and vintage cars filled with essential items and toys that brought happy tears and joyful smiles to a lot of brave kids and their families.
Emiratis and UAE residents representing the more than 200 nationalities and many faiths that live, work and call the UAE home came together in friendship to extend a helping hand where it’s needed most. This filled me with pride as an Emirati and representative of a country where giving and supporting others is an essential part of our heritage and culture.
Growing up in Dubai, in a Muslim household, charity and giving back was always part of my life. One of the five pillars of Islam is to provide for those less fortunate or in need, while the holy month of Ramadan reminds us to focus on our duties as Muslims, specifically our responsibility to help ease the suffering of people in our community and beyond.
In the UAE we’ve been blessed with resources that not only assisted in creating the modern, innovative, inclusive, and prominent nation we are today, but provided the means to help millions of people around the world affected by conflict, natural disaster, hunger, and disease.
More important than having the resources to help, we were and are blessed with visionary and compassionate leadership whom through their religious and cultural background created policy and led by example in supporting and encouraging the creation of a growing number of humanitarian initiatives to provide aid, supplies, funds, technology, transportation, and other resources.
Today the UAE works closely with partners from around the world, sharing knowledge and experience to develop creative solutions to help solve the world’s most pressing problems and provide aid where it’s need most.
For example, the UAE and United Nations World Food Program are working towards building a world without hunger. The UAE and the Gates Foundation launched the Reaching the Last Mile Fund to support efforts to eradicate treatable diseases like polio and malaria worldwide. The UAE has built the largest humanitarian hub in the world, International Humanitarian City, which hosts a community of around 80 members including UN organizations, non-profits, and NGOs. Each year, the UAE is consistently ranked among the top ten donor countries.
In the US, where I have the honor to lead the UAE’s philanthropic efforts as Head of Cultural Diplomacy at the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC since 2011, we’ve developed several initiatives with US partners, including the United Way, Habitat for Humanity, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, Boys and Girls Club of America and many more.
When natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes devastated cities, towns and communities in Missouri, Louisiana, Texas and Florida, the UAE responded quickly with funds to support reconstruction. Volunteers from the UAE were eager to fly over and help build homes, clear debris, and visit with families in those communities.
I’m proud to say, I had the privilege to organize volunteers, manage grants and develop initiatives with our partners to not only rebuild, but find innovative ways to build back better. Together with our US partners, we created opportunities through improved educational technology and a focus on common environmental interests and issues like coral reef restoration.
We’ve come a long way, done a lot of good for many people, but for us in the UAE, it’s never enough as we continue to push ourselves to do better. Since the passing of the UAE’s first President, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (may his soul rest in peace) on the 19th day of Ramadan, the UAE has designated this day as Zayed Humanitarian Day to celebrate a brilliant and compassionate man whose guidance and actions helped build a nation known for its generosity and as a true friend ready to lend a helping hand.
Residents and citizens like me, inspired by Sheikh Zayed’s legacy of giving, find ourselves consistently hearing his words, “we believe the grace of wealth bestowed upon us by the almighty must be unfolded to encircle our friends and brethren around the world.”
As I seek new ways to partner with communities around the US through my role at the UAE Embassy, I am reminded of Sheikh Zayed’s countless philanthropic efforts from everyday small gestures to expansive infrastructure projects that bettered the lives of people in the UAE and around the world.
And, during this holy month of Ramadan, we reflect on the true meaning of charity and the good deeds we should all practice every day, for our own actions have the power to inspire compassion in others and bring joy.