The Royal Humanitarian Foundation (RHF) has been widely recognised for its philanthropic efforts that have had a lasting impact on societies in Bahrain and across the world. This month, we speak to one of the most recognised representatives of RHF with a natural penchant for charity - RHF Secretary General, Dr. Mustafa Al-Sayed. He tells us about what sparked his interest in charity, the foundation’s impact and his inspirational children’s books too.
You are quite renowned in the Kingdom, but could you kindly give our readers an overview about your distinguished career to-date? How did you get involved with the Royal Humanitarian Foundation?
I had a very challenging childhood, I was born into a poor family and my father died when I was just five years old. Two months before his death, our house was burnt in a big fire and thus we lost everything and had to start from zero. Hence, now I feel the requirements and aspiration of poor orphans and children and do my best to help them.
Over the years I have also learned of the goodness that people have in them through various situations in my life. For instance, my neighbor who would tell me to go home when it was late at night, or the engineer who saved my life when I was working with high voltage switch gear and pointed out the hazards to me, and people who encouraged me to become a better and successful person.
If you genuinely treat people well, with kindness and compassion, I believe you will receive heavenly rewards in return.
What inspired your dedication to a life of charitable work?
I helped in forming the Bahrain Safety Society in 1979. It was then that I understood the satisfaction of saving lives though informative lectures, writing books and voluntary work. You feel good when you go to bed at night, realising that you have helped others and impacted their lives positively. Seeing smiles on the face of children or appreciation from elderly people made me happy.
In fact, I had an interview with an Arabic newspaper in 2005 at the very peak of my professional career as the President of Bapco. At the time, they asked me what my ambition in life would be and I said it was my dream to have a beautiful nursery for orphans. This was in my heart at the time, and today I have not just one nursery, but one in every governorate. There’s a lot of prestige working in the oil industry, but I thank God that I ended up here looking after the orphans and widows, it is so rewarding.
Now, as part of the RHF, I experience true joy. In fact, the foundation doesn’t only work with orphans, but handicapped children, widows, the poverty stricken and elderly too both in Bahrain, and otherwise too, with great patronage from His Majesty King Hamad, the Crown Prince and Prime Minister, His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, and under the dynamic leadership of His Highness Shaikh Nasser Bin Hamad Al Khalifa.
Can you tell us about the children’s books that you have written?
Regarding children’s books, I wrote the first in 1994. I had a draft for the book ready for six months, and following the encouragement of my daughter Manar decided to publish it. Since then, I have written ten children’s books which teach them about good manners, good values, safety, social values, how to care for the environment, and exposes them to exciting adventures in order to expand their horizons.
One of the books that I›m very happy to finish writing is called ‘The Principles of Humanity’. It educationally teaches people how to become good citizens and volunteers. If it can be distributed at schools in countries where I have good connections like Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan and the UAE, we can fill people’s hearts with love and compassion so that there is no room for hatred and extremism.
What is the Royal Humanitarian Foundation’s main initiative?
It looks after 11,000 widows and orphans in various ways including a monthly salary and free healthcare. Over 4000 beneficiaries have received scholarships while more than 8000 people have received healthcare. In addition, over 36,000 people have received humanitarian aid in the form of medical, cost of living and marriage assistance. There are several children in our care who are brilliant and wish to go to private schools and get an international baccalaureate. And to achieve that, we have an agreement with several private schools who give us scholarships for our outstanding students.
How do you prioritise what you focus on most at the Royal Humanitarian Foundation (RHF)?
You have to raise the level of humanitarian work to a professional standard to avoid criticism, and to avoid even yourself being unfair as we all have tendencies to support a certain group. We have a very professional and fair approach while sticking to our values and ethics. We conduct a study for each case and have criteria based on which we help people.
Through this approach we have helped thousands and thousands of people of all nationalities. For instance, we helped rebuild 500 houses when the Philippines was struck by a tsunami, and provided water and other supplies to ten villages in Pakistan. Some of the places we have been to are quite dangerous, but the joy of positively impacting these communities and making a difference is unbelievable.
According to a British charity organisation, the Royal Humanitarian Foundation was rated number 11 in the world and number one in the Arab world for humanitarian works. This is not due to the amount of money donated, but rather the lasting impact, quality, and the way we treat people. Through our initiatives, we also witness touching acts of kindness on the part of Bahraini citizens who come forward to support our causes.
In addition to giving material things to support people, it’s important to empower them through education to boost their dignity, moral and help them succeed in achieving their aspirations. In Bahrain, despite there being plenty of training centres and educational facilities, we built a vocational training center where orphans have the opportunity to become the first choice in the industry. Notably, through the vision of His Majesty King Hamad, we have also built six schools in Jordan with four of them being built on the border with Syria. Some of the students who went to these schools, have now received scholarships to study in Europe and the US.
What can you tell us about the support of refugees by the RHF?
Bahrain is a leader in this aspect as we have a very creative approach in helping refugees. Through His Highness Shaikh Nasser’s creative approach, we have not only built schools but teachers training colleges too as there is no point in having a school if there are no local teachers, like in Somalia.
I believe you worked with King Charles III on various Islamic committees’ initiatives related to humanitarian works. Could you kindly elaborate?
Yes, King Charles III is a close friend of our Royal Family. A memorable time was when His Majesty was a prince and a sponsor of the Islamic World Society in the UK and they were presenting an award for a humanitarian project that Bahrain had done in Palestine and Syria. Out of everybody present, we were awarded a prize for our outstanding work there where we were building schools and libraries to promote peace and sustainable development while people were talking about the war. His Majesty has a wonderful personality, he is hard-working, kind and very intelligent. I congratulate the UK for having such a remarkable man as King to follow a very memorable and unforgettable Queen.
You refer to Bahraini orphans as your children. Do you have any of your own children?
Yes, I have four. They are beautiful and successful and I love them tremendously. In fact, I also have grandchildren. Since I don’t see them as often, as my work has always involved a lot of travelling, I make up for it by cooking for them every Friday. They may joke about its colour or taste, but they got used to eating it!