ABU DHABI // Standing on stage at the Emirates Palace hotel, clutching a bronze statuette, Mustapha Jabar, age 11, brought 700 guests to tears. Speaking in Arabic, the little Iraqi boy, who is recovering from a form of lymphoma cancer, told the audience that the three people he hoped to meet in his life were Sheikh Khalifa, the President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, the Ruler of Sharjah, and his wife, Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, the honorary president of the Friends of Cancer Patients Society.
It was thanks to the charity that he recovered from his cancer, he said. The charity paid for his hospital treatment and covered all additional expenses. Its volunteers provided his family with emotional and moral support. He thanked the audience for recognising the help he had been given. The award that Mustapha presented was one of 10 handed out on Saturday night to regional charities during the Noble Humanitarian Awards Middle East.
The two-hour event was hosted by Yusra, an Egyptian actress. Arab celebrities such as Ragheb Alami, a Lebanese singer, and Ehab Tawfik, an Egyptian singer, handed out awards to UAE and Gulf charities including the UAE Red Crescent, Dubai Cares, Life for Relief and Development and the Zayed Higher Organiaation for Humanitarian Care. The awards were conceived by Janeen Mansour, an Arab-American entertainment TV presenter who divides her time between Dubai and Los Angeles. Ms Mansour became disillusioned with her work in Hollywood interviewing celebrities about their clothes, hair and make-up, so she set up the awards to celebrate their philanthropy.
The inaugural ceremony in Los Angeles last year saw Morgan Freeman, Teri Hatcher, Jessica Biel and Joel Madden collect awards for their contribution to US charities. Ms Mansour hopes the model set by the American stars will be emulated by the Middle East's entertainers. "It's a win-win situation for both the celebrity and the charity," she said. "They both get more exposure and the ultimate result is more good work gets done."
Many of the celebrities were moved by the stories of children such as Mustapha. Ms Mansour said Ragheb Alami met the boy's family after the event. Ms Mansour also wants companies to learn from the awards. While acknowledging that charitable giving is an entrenched part of Arab and Islamic culture, Ms Mansour said many companies in the region were not fulfilling their corporate social responsibility.
"A study done earlier this year by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce showed that 90 per cent of companies did not follow any [corporate responsibility] practices," she said. "An event like ours could act as a call to action. " Ms Mansour received support to host the event from six official sponsors, including The National, Al Ittihad and Abu Dhabi TV. Tariq al Gurg, the chief executive of Dubai Cares, said: "We could not have achieved this without the continuous support of the UAE community and the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to provide children in developing countries with access to primary education and help them break the cycle of poverty."
Nancy Ajram was scheduled to be one of the guest stars but other commitments intervened. The 10 charities honoured at Saturday's ceremony were: the UAE Red Crescent Authority, Unicef, the Dubai Autism Centre, Dubai Cares, the Zayed Higher Organisation for Humanitarian Care, Special Needs and Minors Affairs, the Friends of Cancer Patients Society, Gulf for Good, Life for Relief and Development, the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the General Women's Union.