Reach out to Asia

Essa Al Mannai on how his charity is helping improve lives across Asia

Reach out to Asia

Tell us about the charity...
It started out in 2006 as an organisation that focused on providing quality primary and secondary education for children around Asia, identifying the core needs for marginalised communities. The organisation was announced and is chaired by Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. We focus on education in all areas – whether it is access through building schools or teacher quality training and curriculum development.

And how has the charity progressed over the years...
As the years have started moving forward, we have been building more ideas into our strategy. We have integrated four thematic areas into our approach: one is sports for education, the second is skills development through vocational training, the third is environmental education and the fourth is Arabic language. Locally, ROTA has started focusing on two areas – volunteerism and contributing to the culture of community engagement, and the other is youth programmes and serving the community. These are initiatives we have been doing for five years now.

Where did it all start?
We started our work in Pakistan, then expanded to Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Indonesia. We do work in the Middle East as well now in Iraq, Lebanon, Tunisia and Yemen. We also had programmes with Syrian refugees. We find where the needs are and then find the most suitable partner to build a programme with. We are currently working in 13 countries.

And is the charity all based on where the need is?
Yes, it is. There is no one solution that fits all. In some countries, the need is merely access. In other countries the access is there, but the quality of teaching is not. We have to assess what our programme will contribute for the better of the local citizens. We look at the long-term benefits and it is about the local community having true ownership of the programme from the beginning. It’s about empowering the community. We are there to help but ultimately it is about self-sustainability. We shouldn’t need to be there forever; eventually the community has to run the programme by itself but it’s about doing it together.

And how does this get paid for?
Our partners will share the cost of the programme but the government in the country we are working in would have to commit to the initiative as well; if not financially then in principle.

Recently there was a Kilimanjaro initiative. Can you tell us more about that...
This is something that we are very proud of. Sheikh Mohammed Al Thani, our youth ambassador, was interested to explore how climbing a mountain could be used as a tool for helping that local community. He invited 12 youths to join him to climb the mountain. At ROTA we empower the youth to become the leaders of helping the community. So we had to look at how to get them truly engaged and mobilise the community, rather than it just being a climbing expedition. So they raised funds to help the children in the local area.

The 12 of them really showed commitment from the beginning – they met potential corporate companies that could fund the initiative, they shared their story, they asked sponsors and individuals for funding. We’re building their capacity and they are acquiring a lot of skills at a young age. Eventually, we had the first-ever Qatari girls climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and the six Qatari boys going together to summit the mountain and share their story.

They have been a great example of committed citizens who have taken this responsibility. Al Jeish Sports Club was the official sponsor for this climb and there are so many other partners who helped in this initiative, including many schools here in Qatar raising funds.

Tell us another initiative you have been really proud of...
There are so many. I’m very proud of our youth programmes and especially our Empower programme, which originated in Qatar, organically starting within ROTA. We have a youth advisory board at ROTA and youths are embedded within the programme so their voice is there from the beginning. There are many youth clubs focusing on certain aspects. Some are focused on the environment, others on sport engaging a community. We would then supply them with a small grant to start implementing their ideas. Then they would all come together to discuss their stories and future ideas at Empower, as well as to showcase their programmes. It is open for three days and we have opened it up for youths to come from all over the world. Young people from the UK, Japan, Brazil, USA, and from the Gulf attended our latest meeting and our partners would come along as well. Liverpool Football Club was in attendance. We also have speakers: last year we had Auma Obama, President Obama’s sister, speakers from NASA and other professionals giving inspirational talks.

Another thing I am very proud of is the Wheels’n’Heels initiative. We’ve been the pioneer of using sport as a tool for community engagement. It is a public event for the public to come and to play sport and learn about our programmes. You can come and run, ride a bike, go on roller blades or push your children around in a pram. Anyone with any kind of wheel or heel can come and try the sports.
Also, our recent gala dinner, on November 15, was a great success and raised a great deal of money and awareness of our charity.

What’s next in the pipeline?
We are expanding to Tunisia with the Gates Foundation so we are starting our programmes in the MENA region. ROTA is becoming a very well-known organisation and we are getting big partners willing to sponsor our initiatives and partner with us. We are also very proud of our local partners who have been carrying out our work.

We are also starting programmes in Qatar itself. Reach into Qatar is one of these projects, engaging volunteers and corporate sponsors to donate furniture to renovate houses of families less fortunate in Qatar. We are trying to engage the local community in the long-term plans that we have.

There any many others that are very exciting as well.

And how would the general public get involved with ROTA?
There are many ways. One is donations. You will see our donation boxes around the city very soon. You can come and do Wheels’n’Heels and raise funds on this day. There are volunteering trips each year – many are for students. There are long-term placements for individuals to go to a placement and stay there for a while, depending on the needs on the ground. This could well be a placement for a couple of months. There are also other ways to get involved. Have a good look on our website and social media pages and get involved.

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