Iftar initiative puts smiles on the faces of Dubai’s labourers

A charity initiative trending on social media is encouraging businesses and individuals to come together to help serve thousands of iftar meals to labourers in Dubai.
Volunteer Dan Cross, right, and Tahir Shah, second right, from Moti Roti give iftar food to labourers at a building site in the Tecom area of Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
Volunteer Dan Cross, right, and Tahir Shah, second right, from Moti Roti give iftar food to labourers at a building site in the Tecom area of Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

DUBAI // Thousands of iftar meals will be served to fasting labourers each night throughout Ramadan thanks to a charity initiative that has taken social media by storm.

Tahir Shah, who owns Moti Roti, an Indian restaurant, has been feeding hungry workers during the holy month since 2007, and this year encouraged others to join in using the Twitter hashtag #fillingtheblues.

Dozens of individuals and companies, including Taqado Mexican Kitchen, Biryani Pot, BookMunch Cafe and Camelicious, responded by stepping up to sponsor an evening’s meal service. The result means hot, freshly cooked biryanis will be paid for and dished out to about 100 workers every night until the end of Ramadan.

“We have a chance to give back to the workers who have built our restaurants, offices, apartments. There is no illusion that we can fix everything for these guys, but all we can show is a gesture saying: ‘Hey, we know you’re there and we appreciate it’,” Mr Tahir said.

“I’m surprised how much this resonated with the local community and local businesses. To think within just a few days, how many people came out to promise so many meals for the entire month.

“This is such a great demonstration of social collaboration and I’m really enjoying teaming up with my peers.”

The idea first came about when Mr Shah and a friend helped to feed men working on a building site in The Greens neighbourhood, where they both lived.

“They were working without the afternoon break that is now compulsory and the idea came to provide them with an iftar meal when they finished their shift,” he said. He approached a local restaurant to prepare the food, with the costs covered by donations from friends.

After launching his own business two years ago, Mr Shah decided to expand the idea by spreading the word through social media.

Debbie Rogers volunteered to help at the first event after reading a tweet.

“I decided I would like to give something back to the local community and was impressed at how generous individuals and businesses were in supporting us,” said the freelance human resources and social media consultant.

“It was interesting to see how we were able to leverage the power of social media and our personal networks to make the project happen, both in terms of sponsorship and also in terms of bringing together different people in the community to help distribute the meals to the guys. In a short period of time, we had set up a virtual community with many of us still remaining friends long after the event itself.”

Ms Rogers, who has lived in the UAE for six years, said the initiative had attracted criticism from some people. “There are people asking why aren’t their employers doing something or criticising the salary the guys are paid, but I choose to ignore all of that.

“This initiative isn’t about any of that, we are not trying to solve problems or issues or rectify something that isn’t happening, we are just trying to seize the moment, to make a little difference for the guys for a short period of time.

“If it means we make them smile and they have something different for dinner than they would normally have and they get to be greeted by a lot of happy smiling faces before they jump on their bus back to camp, then that’s enough for me.”

Iftars held on July 14 and 21 will be sponsored by Sarah Abdel Gawad, from Synquatics, a synchronised swimming school in Dubai, and her husband Khaled Elsayed, the founder of Timepiece 360, a small startup selling second-hand designer watches online.

“Ramadan is a blessed month and an opportunity for us to give back to society. We are always looking for projects and charities through which we can either get involved or donate to. When Tahir approached us with this we were very keen to get involved and thought it would be a great way to share what is special about this month,” Ms Gawad said.

“It’s a great way of bringing people together and an even bigger reminder that we are lucky and blessed with what we have. Being given the chance to give back is rewarding and fulfilling. Since we work with children and teenagers, we wanted to set an example and increase awareness about the difficulties the labour workers face every day.”

For more information, visit www.motiroti.me/fillingtheblues

mswan@thenational.ae

Published: July 3, 2014 04:00 AM

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