Dubai Cares: children first

Dubai Cares is the largest charity in the world devoted to primary education. As the organisation celebrates its fifth anniversary, Vision looks at how it is providing opportunities for millions of children all over the world to escape poverty and build a better life

The banners said it all. Simply worded, they read: “Five years. Seven million children. Twenty-eight countries. Thank you.” For a charity launched with the aim of educating one million children, that understated achievement is staggering. And when Dubai Cares, founded by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, celebrated its fifth anniversary last month, hundreds of the donors, volunteers and tireless workers who have fulfilled that promise marked the impressive milestone.

They joined His Highness Sheikh Mohammed, His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, and His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, to hear how their funds, time and efforts have changed children’s lives.

Fighting poverty

From Chad to Sierra Leone, Mali, Laos and Lesotho, they have provided schools, books, sanitation and, crucially, a will to battle against poverty and deprivation.

“Our journey has had its share of challenges,” admitted Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimy, UAE Minister of State, Managing Director of the Higher Committee for Hosting the 2020 World Expo in Dubai and Dubai Cares’ Chairperson. “But the support we have received from all sectors in monetary and non-monetary form has allowed us to improve children’s lives. These achievements would not have been possible without the deep-rooted giving in our society.”

Dubai Cares was launched in 2007 during Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims focus on charitable work and donate to the needy. Starting with a handful of volunteers from Zayed University, Dubai Cares quickly grew into a global organisation with a permanent team of about 30, partnering with other international charities such as Save the Children, Unicef, Oxfam, Care International and Plan International, which identify the areas of greatest need and work with Dubai Cares to ensure projects are implemented fully. It is now the largest charity in the world dedicated to primary education for children, with a particular focus on getting girls into schools.

“We know that the investment Dubai Cares is making in quality primary education is essential in breaking the cycle of poverty,” says Helene Gayle, President and CEO of Care USA, part of Care International. “Our teams are on the ground day after day alongside poor communities, paving the path to change.”

“So many of us look to Dubai Cares as a thought partner on matters affecting the world,” says Rosemary McCarney, Chief Executive of Plan Canada. “The team that has been pulled together in these very short years is remarkable: so culturally diverse, worldly and smart. What I find most extraordinary is how seriously they take scalability and sustainability.”

Global vision

Chris Tight, previously Managing Director at Steven Spielberg’s Starlight Children’s Foundation, was the first person hired by Dubai Cares. “We had 12 weeks to launch during Ramadan,” she recalls. “Sheikh Mohammed said he wanted to achieve social cohesion. He is a very giving man and one of the most active leaders out there. He wanted an opportunity to help children. It was truly his leadership that brought Dubai together in this global vision of helping children outside the Emirates.”

The projects helmed by Dubai Cares would fill a book, a homage to its constant fundraising and work on the ground. There are the 50,000-plus children in the Shikhon programme in Bangladesh benefiting from 1,500 new primary schools and 1,670 teachers; hundreds of children in Siem Reap, Cambodia, getting new libraries and access to water; 82,000 children in Haiti receiving new schooling and recreation facilities; the children in India gaining 100,000 new school books; and the 22,500 children in Indonesia being taught good hygiene and given access to clean water.

Dubai Cares is on track to meet its Millennium Development Goals, a UN international standard for countries that can afford to support neighbours in crisis. The charity adopted goals two, three and eight as its key targets: to guarantee a full course of primary education for every child, everywhere in the world, by 2015; to eradicate gender inequality in primary and secondary education by 2015, and develop a global partnership of charities and NGOs to increase aid, tackle debt, improve healthcare and build technological infastructures.

Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimy says: “In the last five years, Dubai Cares has translated those values into working mechanisms. The vision is that of His Highness: to break the cycle of poverty in developing nations by providing primary education to children. Our four main components are school infrastructure, health and nutrition, hygiene and sanitation, and quality of education.”

Ordinary citizens

At the heart of Dubai Cares’ success are not just business leaders and money makers, but the ordinary citizens and volunteers who help a cause they believe in. They include Sahar Al Awadi, 22, who went to Cambodia in 2008 to help build schools; Reem Al Khaja, 21, and Maha Al Marzouqi, 14, who joined a three-kilometre Walk for Education in Dubai; and Sahar Al Khaja, 30, and Omar Al Gurg, 17, who trekked a Water Bucket Walk to raise awareness of the plight of those who lack access to clean water.

Ms Al Khaja adds: “The charity events we had in Dubai showed how much hardship children face to get an education. It used to take me 15 minutes to get to school by car and it was humbling to walk for more than two hours and think what some children do every day to get to school.”

At the fifth anniversary, another banner read: “Never underestimate the power of your contribution to change lives.” It is a lesson they, and thousands like them in the UAE, are learning every day.