GENEVA: Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah Dr Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, has been helping Palestinian refugees for several years. More recently, she has become a valued supporter of UNHCR, which has a mandate to provide protection and assistance to more than 10 million refugees around the world. She has specifically provided funding to provide healthcare for Somali women.
She recently visited UNHCR’s headquarter building in Geneva to discuss refugee issues with High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and other senior staff members. Sheikha Jawaher spoke briefly to the UNHCR Senior Communications Officer Sybella Wilkes during her Geneva visit. Excerpts from the interview.
What motivates you to help refugees?
I feel honoured to participate in humanitarian work. I feel I have a responsibility to help others. I come from a country that is rich and affluent. Sadly, I feel that our youth — not all, but some – are misusing their wealth, while people in other parts of the world are in need of a small contribution just to be able to live, just for women to deliver their babies safely, feed and educate their children.
It is not easy, but I want people to think beyond their own borders. We have to contribute our share to help others. We are happy as we can put our children in expensive schools, buy them things to satisfy all their needs. But we have to remember to share with others as there is more to life than only looking after your own needs. That means sharing others’ happiness and also standing by them in their time of sorrow.
Tell us about your charitable works.
For a long time I have been involved in helping Palestinian children. Five years ago I started a fund-raising campaign called “Peace for Children” to raise money to educate and support children in Gaza. We raised Dhs83 million ($22 million) over a 4-week campaign that we have used to fund projects and initiatives which are designed to help children in Palestine. We have supported projects in Palestine with Oxfam, Save the Children Fund and UNRWA to name a few.
Palestinian children, from the cradle, know they have no land, but it’s important to support their thirst for knowledge as they all want to go to school and get educated. From my own experience at school, they always came first in exams. They value education. This deserves our help and our commitment to ensure that they get a good education and are able to attend school.
I have had a long connection and friendship with Lebanon. After the war in 2006, we launched another fund-raising campaign called ‘I Love Lebanon,’ to help the Lebanese charities, orphans and cancer victims. We raised Dhs23 million ($6.26 million) in that campaign. We also had a concert that generated Dhs1 million ($270,000) that went to Greenpeace to help clean up the oil spill on Lebanon’s beaches.
I gained more knowledge, more commitment, with my association with UNHCR. I supported a project for Somali women [worth US$1 million] last year. I feel myself a part of the mission, I can’t deny it. In fact I must say I am part of this mission.
As I told the High Commissioner today, I will always be concerned about Somali and Palestinian refugees. How can we give them a good life? How can we give them hope? In addition, these days Syria is a big concern for me and I want to see how I can help.
Why did you start helping Somali refugees?
I met the head of the UNHCR office in Abu Dhabi (Brigitte Khair Mountain) in 2011. I learned about UNHCR’s work. I felt that these are people whom we can trust to make sure the aid will go to save people’s lives, to where people need it the most.
At the time, drought in Somalia (the worst in more than half-a-century) was all over the news. After hearing about the needs of the Somali people, particularly in the health sector, and for women and children, I did not hesitate. At the time, we saw how much they were suffering. Even though that is no longer in the news, I know that Somalia still has chronic problems and that the needs are always there.
I believe mine was a small contribution, compared to what people still need in Somalia and other parts of the world. The information I heard today from UNHCR gave me the power to continue with the work of helping other people, to give some more of my life to this cause. I feel that it is my responsibility to continue to devote my time to help those in need.
How can UNHCR inspire more people from your region to help refugees?
In the past few years, I have felt an increasing responsibility to help refugees and I know I will continue to work on this. I want to speak about it, show people that they are misusing the treasure they have and encourage them to instead invest in people’s lives and help save lives. This will remain my mission in the future.
My advice to you is that you need to show your work more. In the West people know about your work, but not in my region. Our duty is to look and learn about the suffering of people in other parts of the world. When we learn about people who don’t have shelter, healthcare, education, we are obliged to help these people. Most people have a good heart and feel the pain of others. I want you to work harder to communicate these stories to the private sector and the public.
I am extremely saddened by what is happening in Africa and I can’t forget the plight of the Syrian refugees. As I told the High Commissioner, I will remain concerned about Somali, Palestinian and Syrian refugees and will try my utmost to raise awareness about their suffering and help in anyway I can.