Interview with The Star Newspaper
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 31 May 2019
"Queen of Hearts"
Sheikha Moza's quest to make education accessible to underprivileged and marginalised children
By Sheela Chandran
Sheikha Moza Nasser, the chairperson of the Qatar Foundation For Education, Science and Community Development (QF) and Education Above All (EAA), is well aware that knowledge is a valued asset.
Through her work with the foundation, Moza is striving hard to push for better education and human development for marginalised children, youth and women in developing countries.
She stresses that every child, regardless of nationality, colour or creed, should have a right to education.
“Education can transform lives and societies. It is especially important for human development. When you educate a child, you enable him (or her) to be self-sufficient, independent and you are increasing their employability. Education is the backbone of everything,” says Moza during an interview in Kuala Lumpur recently.
Moza’s father Nasser Abdullah al-Misnad was instrumental in instilling the importance of education in the family.
“We grew up in a family that believed in the power of education. My father insisted that we get the best education. He would send us to Britain to improve our English. Maybe this is what initially got me into education. Education can build confidence in children’s hearts and in societies,” says Moza, who holds a degree in sociology from Qatar University.
In 2012, she founded EAA, which aims to bring new life chances and opportunities to the underprivileged in the developing world. There are four programmes under EAA – Educate A Child (EAC), Al Fakhoora, Reach Out To Asia (ROTA) and Protecting Education in Insecurity and Conflict (PEIC).
“When EAA was set up seven years ago, I made a promise to ensure 10 million underprivileged children would have access to education. Now, we have successfully enrolled 10.4 million out-of- school children, thanks to generous partnerships. Through more collective efforts, more children can look forward to a brighter future,” she says with a beaming smile.
Moza, the wife of Sheikh Hamad Khalifa Al Thani (Qatar’s former emir), was in town to visit Dignity Centre in Sentul, KL, one of the 131 learning centres coordinated by UNHCR as part of the EAC programme.
Her visit follows an agreement to pursue a strategic partnership aimed at enrolling 450,000 refugee and internally displaced children in 15 countries. The partnership will make available a shared contribution of almost RM417mil (US$100mil) in support of learning for refugee and internally displaced children.
“With over four million refugee children currently out of school worldwide, there is so much more to do. I urge more partners to come forward – we all need to be playing our part to get more children into classrooms – which is where they belong,” says Moza.
Since 2012, EAA and UNHCR have been working with other partners and advocates to provide access to quality primary education to some of the most marginalised children around the world.
Currently, Malaysia hosts about 167,000 refugees. EAA and its partners have supported over 9,400 refugee children from over 17 countries to attend school. Yet, more than 6,000 refugee children of primary school age are still out of school.
Moza, a mother of seven, adds the plight of refugees is a continuous issue that needs to be addressed.
“Our international institutions have failed to address the root cause of the problem – wars, human rights violation, and persecutions. We need to share responsibility for these refugees – wherever they are – because we have failed them through our international institutions and international systems. Until we fix this system we have to share the responsibility,” says Moza.
Moza is no stranger to humanitarian work. In the span of 20 years, she has been a driving force behind education and social reforms in Qatar. She serves as the chairperson of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, and Sidra Medicine, a research hospital that is envisaged to become a leading institution for women and children’s specialty care.
In 2008, she founded Silatech to address the growing rate of youth unemployment in Arab countries. Today, the organisation has successfully connected over one million Arab youths to jobs and economic opportunities.
Through EAA, Moza has travelled the world to reach out to internally displaced communities. She has met children in war-torn Gaza, visited refugee camps across Africa and helped support Bangladesh’s floating schools.
She still remembers a comment from a child, which left a deep impact in her heart.
“One child showed me some of his ‘magic’ cards. He told me if he could change something in this world, he wants people to be kinder. It means that these children are traumatised and they have lost trust in us as humans. This young child sees kindness as something impossible today, as magic.” She makes it a point to bring along her children on these trips.
“One of my children was with me when I visited Bangladesh and saw the marginalised children in the boat schools. He was also with me in Kenya. This exposure gave him an idea of how other people are living.
“I tried to teach my children and show them the reality on the ground. Seeing them today, I can tell you that they learned,” says Moza, who was appointed a United Nations Sustainable Development Goals advocate in 2016.
She encourages people to step forward and lend a helping hand to underprivileged communities. “Through EAA, we have helped millions of children. If everyone works together, we can do wonders to make the world a better place to live in.”