'Volunteering is in my blood': Why this prolific Dubai humanitarian is running from Eid Al Fitr to Eid Al Adha

Ali Ahmed is running five kilometres a day to raise funds for Al Jalila Foundation

Ahmed Ali is running five kilometres every day, from Eid al Fitr to Eid al Adha. Supplied
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Ahmed Ali has been volunteering for various causes around the world since he was 15, so his latest challenge should come as no surprise.

Over the past two decades, he's helped the needy in the UK, Egypt, Pakistan and the UAE, including setting up entities of his own.

Life is unfair, we are very privileged and we have a roof over our heads and food on the table, so we can make a difference

During the coronavirus pandemic, the Dubai resident of British-Egyptian heritage has also been volunteering at Dubai Hospital, taking people's temperatures, before moving on to Dubai Municipality Clinic, where he manages the logistics of people coming in to do Covid-19 tests. That's as well as working his day job, as a project manager in the construction industry, and undertaking his latest fundraising challenge.

Ali, 33, has been running five kilometres every day between Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha. He is raising money for Al Jalila Foundation's "Farah" programme, a paediatric treatment initiative for sick children. So far, 65 days in, he has raised almost Dh11,000.

So why then, with no particular personal or familial connection to volunteering for charitable causes, does Ali dedicate so much of his life to it?

"When I used to go home to Egypt, I used to see the street children or old people, the same age as my granddad, selling tissues, just trying to make money," he tells The National.

"I just thought life is unfair. We are very privileged and we have a roof over our heads and food on the table, so we can make a difference."

And so he began volunteering for charities in the UK, and in 2009, set up his own. That is Draw a Smile, initially formed in UK and now accredited by the Community Development Authority in Dubai.

It's always been my passion to help others and make a difference. If I could do this full-time, I would

The Draw a Smile volunteers work in local communities across different sectors covering health, the environment, education, people of determination and the elderly.

One of the charity's most enduring initiatives is the “Cool their Summer” campaign – distributing cold water, juice, laban and other supplies to those working outside throughout summer. Last year, the charity handed out 25,000 juices or waters. This year, Pepsi has committed 30,000 bottles of water.

"Volunteering is in my blood. I do it whenever I move to any country," Ali says.

But this year, as well as his volunteering amid the pandemic, he wanted to do something more.

Realising he'd become lethargic when restrictions on movement were imposed within the city, and he hadn't run in 67 days, he committed to running that same length of time, every day for five kilometres throughout summer, without fail. And it just so happened that the number of days between Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha was 67.

Ahmed Ali tends to run around Kite Beach at sunset
Ahmed Ali tends to run around Kite Beach at sunset

He'd only taken up running in 2018, when he trained himself to run the Dubai Marathon to raise money for a young child with a rare disability.

Ali has also since taken up working with Heroes of Hope, a community outreach initiative that supports people of determination through sports.

Ali says he wants to "raise awareness" for Al Jalila Foundation, as well as encourage people to get active during the pandemic. In the past four-and-a-half months, he has lost 14 kilograms between being on the keto diet and his running challenge. He invites people from the Dubai running community to join him on his daily runs, which usually take place around Kite Beach at sunset, because of the soaring temperatures. Sometimes there are five or 10 others in attendance, sometimes it is only him.

"I wanted something to commit myself to running every day. It helps the kids, we help ourselves and everyone wins."

The #Eid2EidChallenge is endorsed by Dubai Sports Council, sponsored by water company MonViso and supported by Hopasports. MonViso has pledged to match the donations at the end of the challenge.

But with such a huge range of causes to support, does he not find it all exhausting?

He admits he does, but says he would be lost without it.

"It's always been my passion to help others and make a difference. If I could do this full-time, I would."

It's why Ali has become such a valuable member of the charitable community in Dubai.

Dr Abdulkareem Sultan Al Olama, chief executive of Al Jalila Foundation, says it is "so lucky to be surrounded by so many incredible supporters, like Ahmed Ali, who use their passion for running to help patients in need."

“An active lifestyle is the cornerstone of health, and sport provides a platform to champion healthy living and raise funds to support charitable causes," Al Olama says. "It’s inspiring to see that despite the challenges that Covid-19 has had on our lives, members of the community are determined to use this time to do good and make a difference to people’s lives."