Expat puts love for extreme sports to good use

The Lebanese-Canadian volunteer uses his fitness to support charity

14:18 May 19, 2017
NAT_170504 Mohamad Khalaf_MA611
NAT_170504 Mohamad Khalaf_MA21

Dubai: He takes his passion for extreme sports beyond just a hobby. The idea, he says, is to do something you love not only for your own satisfaction, but for a much greater purpose.

Using his fitness, 29-year-old Lebanese-Canadian Mohammad Khalaf has been able to leave a mark in the good causes he has supported. When he goes back to remember a tough sports challenge he achieved, he also remembers the larger impact it had been able to create.

Khalaf loves to take tough physically challenging sport activities and turn them into charity causes or use them to raise awareness about fundamental values and topics. It was only a year ago that he took that decision to dedicate himself on the matters that really deserve attention, even if it meant risking his life.

A graduate in Economics, now working as an export manager at a food packaging company, Khalaf had scaled high-altitude mountains, cycled for 24 hours straight through the desert and is about to take another two risky adventures — all for a greater purpose.

“My first big activity was climbing the Kilimanjaro Mountain in July 2016, which is the highest point in Africa, to raise awareness on the anti-discrimination law of the UAE. [Along with a friend] we wanted to dedicate the sport challenge to the idea of tolerance and acceptance in the UAE,” Khalaf told Gulf News.

He said the idea was to show the world the importance of tolerance and freedom of belief and how more than 200 nationalities in the UAE live in coexistence. “After seven days of climbing, we raised a flag with the three victory salute of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and the Ruler of Dubai, which symbolises win, victory and love.”

Despite the challenges of climbing the 5,895m high mountain, with 15kg of equipment carried on his back, getting little rest, bearing with strong winds and risking altitude sickness, Khalaf said: “The powerful message that was carried and conveyed made me forget about the difficulties.”

Another challenge that changed his perception in life was the 150km cycling activity he took part in Liwa desert to support hundreds of orphans and underprivileged children in the UAE, Yemen, Iraq and Syria in collaboration with Emirates Red Crescent and Adventure HQ.

“This particular 24-hour event in January 2017 took six months of preparation. Using fat bikes, we cycled through the desert to raise toy donations for orphans. This was the biggest physical challenge I took part in, because we had to do it for 24 hours straight.”

But everything requires the right mindset, he added, “which later doesn’t make it seem so challenging but rather an enjoyable experience that you wouldn’t want to give up on because you know in the end that you are contributing to society and also motivating people to give back”.

Following the activity, Khalaf said it managed to raise two truckloads of toys. “We expected the toys to be used, but 90 per cent were brand new, which shows how much people in the UAE care about giving.”

Khalaf’s volunteering does not stop here. He has also been involved in football tournaments to support children of Gaza in previous years, also in collaboration with local charities, and will continue to look for other causes to support using his hobby. “As members of a society, we need to give more to those who are less fortunate and improve the lives of others, through any means,” he says.

His next move will go towards supporting stray pets in the UAE, which will see him climb the highest mountain in Europe, Elbrus, with the same Kilimanjaro climbing partner. He says the weather conditions will be worse, but he will do his best to make it to the top.

“Volunteering can be doing anything that makes the world a better place, even if it is supporting animals. This particular event will hopefully encourage more people to support animal societies and vets who are putting a lot of effort to care, treat and keep the population of cats under control through their programmes.”

He emphasised on how parents should set good examples for their children, “so they can grow up adopting good values and practices, understand the need to help others around them and also accept others regardless of their race, religion or background”.

Khalaf wants to dedicate the future tough and physically challenging sport activities to raising donations for people with special needs and for people who suffer from medical conditions and cannot afford to pay for their treatment.

“Everyone can do something their own way using the hobby they like. I like hiking, climbing and all sorts of extreme sports but you could love music and use it to volunteer and support a cause.”