Jawaher Al Qasimi launches The Big Heart Foundation

Sharjah: Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah, UNHCR Eminent Advocate for Refugee Children, launched The Big Heart Foundation (TBHF) yesterday on the 2nd anniversary of her appointment as UNHCR Eminent Advocate for Refugee Children.

This comes two years after Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher launched The Big Heart Campaign which has helped hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugee children and families  by providing emergency aid, healthcare, shelter, cash assistance, education and relief materials such as clothing, blankets, and food.

Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Al Qasimi said, “The decision to transform The Big Heart Campaign into a Foundation stems from our belief in the necessity to double our efforts to help refugee children. We are expanding our support, especially to ensure that we strengthen the family and provide refugee children with an environment that is secure. This is in line with the true values of Islam, and is compatible with the humanitarian work that distinguishes the UAE and reflects its honorable and well respected standing on the world stage.”

On 7th May 2013, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) appointed Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher as UNHCR Eminent Advocate for Refugee Children, one of the most distinguished positions in the international humanitarian world. This was in recognition of her tireless efforts to raise public awareness about the problems faced by refugees, a cause she has been devoted to and which is close to her heart. Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher’s commitment to alleviating the suffering of women and children affected by war, and her eagerness to launch life-saving and life-changing initiatives, mobilise humanitarian support and secure financial resources for refugees led to this appointment.

Her Highness added, “With the deteriorating conditions suffered by refugees throughout the world as a result of war, unrest and disasters and the growing risks that pose serious threats to their safety, the international community should join forces and unite their efforts to stop these tragedies that break our hearts. We cannot stand by as refugees risk their lives on unseaworthy vessels or travel vast distances by land and desert, looking for security and safety. This tragedy requires immediate action to provide them with assistance, keeping in mind the true teachings of Islam..”

Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher stressed that children always suffer the most as a result of war and are deprived of basic human rights such as shelter, food, healthcare, education and psychological support. She said, “The tragedy of war and refugees affects us all, it is a global issue that cannot be resolved without a concerted international effort.”

Her Highness added that transforming the Big Heart Campaign in to The Big Heart Foundation will help to augment cooperation with local and regional government bodies and international humanitarian organisations and UN agencies. It will also enable the Foundation to participate in and host specialised conferences, which will build greater capacity to influence and have access to, decision makers worldwide. In addition, it will also increase financial support enabling it to develop programmes and initiatives to support refugees in MENA and the world, and provide a better life for them.

Since its inception The Big Heart Campaign has provided life-saving medical services to over 365,000 Syrian refugees and gave more than 400,000 others vital food and financial aid. During the colder winter months in Syria and its neighbouring countries of Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Lebanon the campaign provided basic essentials to children and their families such as warm shelters, blankets and clothing. The Big Heart Campaign later focused on education as part of the drive to bring Syrian refugee children back to school after their education was disrupted by the current crisis.

A significant milestone for the Big Heart Campaign was hosting the first UN conference on the issue of refugee children in the Middle East and North Africa called Investing in the Future | Protecting Refugee Children | MENA (IIFMENA). The conference was held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, last October and represented the enormous efforts of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher to provide protection and safety to refugee children everywhere.

It brought together over 500 leaders, government officials, international experts and conference delegates with expertise in the field of refugee child protection. The conference included a number of Policy sessions, panel discussions and Youth Forum workshops over a two day period. This aimed to provide the youth in the MENA region with a platform to raise awareness on child displacement issues and encourage the youth to volunteer and contribute positively towards society and their country and to become responsible global citizens.

Through the conference hundreds of experts, researchers, media professionals and university students, held discussions and succeeded in putting measures in place to protect the rights of refugee children and enhanced the collective efforts to improve the life of those children. As a result of the conference the Sharjah Principles were developed, these are:

  1. All refugee children and adolescents to enjoy international protection.
  2. All refugee children and adolescents to have their best interests taken as a primary consideration in all matters affecting their well-being and their future.
  3. All refugee children to be registered and documented at birth in countries of asylum.
  4. All refugee children and adolescents to enjoy their right to family unity and be protected from family separation.
  5. All refugee children and adolescents to enjoy their right to quality education in a safe environment supportive of their developmental needs.
  6. All refugee children and adolescents to be protected against violence, abuse, and exploitation, including child labour, and have access to national systems and services delivered in a protective way, including health and psychosocial support.

During the 2013 to 2014 campaign The Big Heart provided 106,000 Syrian refugees in Iraq with healthcare services valued at AED7.3 million. In Jordan the campaign provided AED18.4 million in healthcare to 150,000 Syrian refugees and provided 338,700 children and elderly people with relief aid. In Lebanon AED11 million was given in health care services to 10,000 refugees and in a healthcare project worth AED3.7 million, 9,150 Syrian refugees were helped and 60,000 refugees benefited from a project worth AED6.6 million during Eid Al Fitr.

Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher said that these projects have helped to spread hope among refugees and their children, giving them greater ability to withstand the adverse psychological, physical and emotional effects caused by war and unrest.