Q&A: A royal message from Sharjah – together we can do a lot to help
GENEVA, February 4 (UNHCR) - Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of the ruler of Sharjah, 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 health care for displaced Somali women. She recently visited UNHCR's headquarters building in Geneva to meet High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and other senior UNHCR staff. Her Highness spoke briefly to 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 which 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 because 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 other people's happiness and standing by them in their time of sorrow.
This is part of what we learn in our religion. In Islam there is a tax you pay from your own money, zakat, to help poor people. We must look for those who need it most and give to them.
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 83 million dirhams (US$22 million), over four weeks . . . Palestinian children, from the cradle, know they have no land, but it is 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.
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 Lebanese charities, orphans and cancer victims. We raised 23 million dirhams (US$6.26 million) in that campaign. We also had a concert that generated 1 million dirhams (US$270,000) that went to Greenpeace to help clean up the oil spills 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 lives, to where people need it the most.
At the time, drought in Somalia [the worst in 60 years] 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. My husband [Sharjah's Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qasimi] is a big supporter too.
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 in other parts of world. When we learn about people who don't have shelter, health care, 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 any way I can. Together, I believe we can do a lot to help those in need.