When Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid first announced the Arab Hope Makers award, he tweeted it as a job posting for anyone aged between five and 95 devoted to serving others, with a positive outlook and a belief in the power of compassion and humanity. They also had to prove they had given up their time selflessly for at least one community initiative. But even the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai cannot have anticipated the response as 65,000 thousand applications poured in over the following weeks. The launch of this year's award, the second of its kind, is set to exceed even that monumental outpouring, with nearly 40,000 applicants writing to him in just six days and an average 6,500 applications coming in every day from across the Arab world.
One only has to look at the places they are coming from – Syria, Iraq, Yemen – to realise that in a region scarred by conflict and the brutality of war, the ability of the human spirit to find the tiniest shrapnel of hope in misery is unerring. In the bleakest of circumstances, ordinary citizens, remarkable for nothing except a refusal to give in to despair or desperation, are able to give willingly of themselves to improve the lives of others. Last year's winner was Nawal Al Sufi, a Moroccan woman who helped rescue more than 20,000 refugees arriving on Italy's shores by boat; the runners-up included Magda Gebran, known as Mama Maggie, who has devoted her life to helping children in Egypt's poorest areas, and Syria's White Helmets, who put their own lives on the line every day to rescue victims from bombed buildings. Sheikh Mohammed was so moved by their stories, he gave all five finalists the top prize of Dh1 million in 2017. "Closing the door of hope means opening the window of despair," he said. This year, as thousands working in the fields of education, environment, relief, medical aid, youth and culture write in to tell of the small part they play in improving lives, it is heartening to know that where there is darkness and evil, there is also kindness and compassion. Not all of them will win but somewhere out there, 40,000 souls – and counting – are giving their time and effort selflessly to bring a little light to others' lives.