Saif Al Mansoori says he is about 105-years-old but his exact age is contested and ultimately no one seems to know. Though his body is frail his memory is sharp as he tells of how he danced the Emirati folklore dance at the wedding of the Dubai Ruler’s parents.
“We celebrated for a whole month at Sheikh Rashid’s wedding. I was alive before Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid was born,” he says.
Mr Al Mansoori is one of the 46 Emirati pioneers of charity work that were recognised for their efforts by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, on Tuesday in a ceremony held to mark the 46th National Day and the Year of Giving.
Mr Al Mansoori was awarded for a lifetime of charity work.
“I am a diver. I dive for pearls, sharks, hammour… everything,” he says. Whatever he caught, he distributed it to those in need.
Launched on December 1, 2014, the UAE Pioneers Awards are the culmination of a social media initiative that began with a tweet from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid a month before when he called for pioneers who helped the country develop to be honoured and therefore remembered by future generations. The hashtag campaign prompted Emiratis to nominate fellow countrymen and women who they believed were pioneers in their respective fields.
Among those honoured on Tuesday were the families of six Emiratis killed in a terrorist bombing in Afghanistan while carrying out humanitarian work in January.
The families of Emirati martyrs were also honoured at the ceremony, as were 46 inspiring role models including the first deaf teacher in the country and a woman who tallied the greatest number of hours spent volunteering.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, was honoured by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid for his humanitarian contributions, namely his work to eliminate preventable diseases such as polio.
"I am very grateful to my brother, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid for this generous gesture, which is a tribute to the nation's values of humanitarians and philanthropy in which we all hold dear,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed. "There is no better feeling than planting the seeds of hope, to help those in need. It increases our will and determination to continue our nation's march towards progress and prosperity."
Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi, Ruler of Ajman, was also honoured for his charitable work including establishing the Emirates Field Hospitals clinics at the Emirati-Jordanian Refugee Camp and the launch of the Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi Foundation.
[ Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid awards Emiratis at the cutting edge ]
[ Sheikh Mohammed launches UAE Pioneers ]
The youngest person to receive an award was a three-year-old member of the Al Junaibi family. Fawzia Al Junaibi accepted the award on Tuesday on behalf of 40 family members who were honoured for having the largest family involved in charity work.
“The entire family will gather and decide how they can help the needy not only in the UAE but worldwide,” says Saeed Al Junaibi. For their most recent initiative, the family travelled to Syria to donate winter clothes.
Media personality, Munther Al Muzzaki, was awarded for using social media to rally people to donate to charitable causes. “All I did was put people in touch with each other. I wasn’t looking for recognition and I still can’t believe that I was given such a prestigious award or that the leadership was aware of the work I was doing,” he says.
Fatima Al Jassim, 21, was awarded for founding an English platform that trains people how to interact with disabled people. Ms Al Jassim was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth and has since become a certified international “master trainer” in empowering people with disabilities. She says the award means the world to her, “It makes me feel appreciated.”
Bedour Al Raqbani opened the first social enterprise in the UAE to provide social support for people with special needs. She says discovering her child was deaf inspired her to make a difference for other children too.
Seven years ago with the support of her family, she founded Kalimati Centre in Dubai.
“We do our work out of love and out of care, we are not expecting anything - to receive this award is simply breath-taking,” she says.