There is an undeniable spirit of giving in the UAE, which naturally becomes more pronounced during the holy month.
In recent times, however, there has been confusion surrounding charities, donations and volunteer work after the Government tightened regulations to more strictly control a sector that had been open to abuse. What the authorities have done is to make it illegal to promote or raise funds for any charity that isn't included on its lists. But that should not distract us from the work of the UAE's approved charities and humanitarian organisations. So we look at six of the country's philanthropic organisations to find out about the campaigns they are running during Ramadan.
Founded in 2007 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President, and Ruler of Dubai, this is similar to the Khalifa Foundation, which was formed about the same time. Recognising that education can be an effective tool in combating poverty, Dubai Cares provides relief to tens of millions of children, their families, nurses and teachers (regardless of nationality, gender, race or religion), in some of the world's poorest and most war-ravaged countries, as well as those affected by natural disasters.
This week, it set in motion its Back to School campaign for Volunteer Emirates, in support of children affected by the Syrian crisis who have been displaced to Jordan. The first day of the initiative, last Saturday, involved 500 volunteers from the UAE who converged on Dubai's Al Boom Tourist Village to pack school kits that will be distributed to children in time for the start of the new school year.
Tariq Al Gurg, chief executive of Dubai Cares, was there to help volunteers pack bags. He says: "As the protracted conflict in Syria continues, more and more children and young people are witnessing their education – and, in turn, their future – slipping away. Through initiatives like this we are allowing the UAE community to support us by ensuring that [the youngsters] are properly equipped with basic school essentials."
Shakeel Afzal, one of the volunteers on the first day, said that "this is what Ramadan is about – the UAE community coming together to recognise the difficulties faced by others and donating our time in order to help them". www.dubaicares.ae
Emirates Red Crescent
Describing itself as a "volunteer humanitarian organisation that supports official authorities in times of peace and war", Emirates Red Crescent is based in Abu Dhabi and was set up in 1983 with support from Founding Father Sheikh Zayed. It carries out Red Cross operations throughout the UAE and beyond, spreading health awareness and education, as well as rescuing people from disasters and providing assistance to orphans, widows, the elderly and people with special needs.
There is a push this Ramadan to collect items of clothing to be redistributed among those in need in countries that are ravaged by conflict. Many retailers have joined forces with Red Crescent for this campaign, including Bur Dubai's BurJuman Mall and Majid Al Futtaim's malls, where people can donate books, toys and non-perishable food, as well as clothing. Online fashion retailer Namshi is aiming to donate tens of thousands of items of clothing, made possible by customers buying bundles during the check-out process, while Dubai's Arabian Centre is once again home to the Ramadan Tree of Life, where household items and money are collected for distribution through the Red Crescent in Syria, Yemen and Somalia.
Also partnering with Red Crescent this Ramadan is Speedex, the UAE tool and hardware distributor. Helping those closer to home, the retailer has collection boxes in its three locations, where donations of hygiene essentials (toothbrushes, razors, soaps and T-shirts, for example) are being collected for distribution among workers in the country’s labour camps.
Red Crescent is also running a blood donation programme, with donor facilities set up in its offices and at Ramadan tents. The organisation says that blood donations typically fall during the holy month and that they will greatly assist in life preservation, especially for those who have been injured in traffic accidents. www.rcuae.ae
Al Jalila Foundation
Established in 2013 to promote medical education and research in the UAE, Al Jalila has been instrumental in nurturing a generation of homegrown medical professionals and has provided the means for ground-breaking research programmes. Its latest research centre is opening this year in Dubai's Healthcare City, where it will focus its efforts on cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and mental health.
For the holy month, the foundation has collaborated with 15 Marriott International properties in the UAE, which are donating a portion of their iftar proceeds to the charity’s Farah programme, through which it supports medical treatment and research for children.
For something a little more adrenaline-pumping, Al Jalila has also teamed up with action sports brand XDubai for special, limited-time-only night-time zip-line rides in Dubai Marina. All of the proceeds from the rides, which take place each Wednesday after sunset, will be donated to the foundation. www.aljalilafoundation.ae
For the past nine years, SmartLife has been working on behalf of the country’s blue-collar workers, particularly in the construction industry, not just by giving them money, but also by helping them to empower themselves and discover hidden personal potential, and by educating them to be able to better their lives.
This Ramadan, it has teamed up with Dubai's Century Financial Brokers, one of the region's financial brokerage firms and online trading service providers, on an initiative established last year called Health, Wealth and Happiness. It started with a 2,000-person iftar that featured a Happiness Tree to which guests were encouraged to attach leaves. For each one, CFB will donate Dh25 to produce kits distributed in labour camps, which include hygiene products, prepaid vouchers and telephone cards to make calls to family and friends in their home countries. www.smartlifefoundation.org
Beit Al Khair Society
Incorporated in 1989 by a group of businessmen in Dubai, Beit Al Khair’s main purpose is to provide for families in need, whether Emirati or expat, with a particular focus on those too modest to reach out for help. Those falling victim to hardships caused by the death or imprisonment of a family member, the elderly, widows and orphans, struggling students, as well as people with disabilities or special needs, are all assisted once their cases have been assessed for merit. During Ramadan last year the society donated Dh83,524,709 to the UAE’s most vulnerable.
This year, Beit Al Khair has its sights set higher still, with a Ramadan campaign known as Rewarding Philanthropist Further. This will involve donations of approximately Dh90 million to benefit more than 25,000 families over the course of three months.
The society is also running its own Farah (that means joy) programme, which provides food and sustenance to the needy. Some of the UAE's most important organisations dig deep to help Beit Al Khair, including Dubai Islamic Bank, Al Maktoum Foundation, the Department of Islamic Affairs and the Faraj Fund. Additional projects will be undertaken throughout the year, with the aim of reaching 45,000 financially hard-pressed families. www.beitalkhair.org
Dar Al Ber Society
Staying with the tree theme is Dar Al Ber, the UAE's oldest government charity organisation, which has been providing for those in need, at home and abroad, for the past 40 years. This Ramadan, the society has been busy raising funds with a campaign it calls ChariTree: Plant for a Cause.
During events at Dubai's Manipal University, Ambassador School and Indian High School, students have been taught about the value of charity to society, as well as the importance of nature to sustainable living.
Hundreds of plants were sold for Dh10 each, with the proceeds going towards Dar Al Ber’s humanitarian work. Similar events will be held in other schools and universities, as well as business premises, throughout the rest of the year.
In 2017 alone, Dar Al Ber provided assistance to 15,000 families in the UAE, and it continues to reach out to people in 43 countries, offering help to anyone who needs it, regardless of nationality or religious persuasion.
"We are aiming to create future philanthropists who not only care for people, but care for the environment also," says Dar Al Ber's deputy director Hisham Al Zahrani. www.daralber.ae