Hundreds of people from all walks of life helped to pack boxes of aid for Palestinian people in Gaza on Saturday in Dubai.
There was heavy traffic congestion outside Al Rimal Hall on the Al Ain Road but a solemn silence replaced the usual sound of honking horns as volunteers joined the UAE's efforts to provide aid for Palestinian families.
Inside, adults and young children stood side by side to fill boxes with supplies including canned food, powdered milk, instant cereal, hygiene kits and other necessities.
The event was part of the Compassion for Gaza campaign organised by Emirates Red Crescent, the World Food Programme, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Community Development.
“We currently have about 1,050 boxes, and our goal is to reach 13,000 boxes containing food baskets, women's baskets, and children's baskets,” Sultan Al Shamsi, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for Development and International Organisations Affairs, told The National.
He emphasised the importance of providing ready-to-eat food that complies with international safety standards, because many in Gaza have no access to cooking facilities.
The outpouring of support from the community has been remarkable, he said, with more than 20 NGOs, as well as individuals taking part in the initiative.
The campaign will move to Abu Dhabi's National Exhibition Centre (Adnec) and Sharjah’s Expo Centre on Sunday.
“More events are planned for the coming weeks,” Mr Al Shamsi said.
“Access to aid is very important, and we encourage more access as we have seen lines of trucks waiting to enter Gaza. The UAE is ready to send more assistance,” he said.
One of the volunteers, Mahira Zakiuddin, 42, a school counsellor from Pakistan, brought her two children with her.
“There is little that we can do, but I would like to think that someone would do the same for my children, should anything happen,” she said.
Palestinian diaspora determined to help
Ayman Al Souq, 42, who is originally from Gaza and has lived in the UAE for nearly four decades, came with his two daughters.
“We were driven by the feeling that this is our duty,” he said.
He shared his family's personal connection to Gaza, where their homes in the Al Rimal neighbourhood were destroyed in Israeli air strikes.
“My wife’s and my extended family had to relocate to Deir Al Balah after their home were destroyed,” he said.
Mr Ayman and his family have not been able to go to Gaza since 1996.
His 11-year-old daughter, Jude, spoke of her sadness at the destruction of homes and the killing of children in Gaza.
“It makes me feel very sad,” she said. “The kids in Gaza deserve a better life and a better future.”
Jude has never been to Gaza or met her relatives living there, but she hopes to one day.
“But I want to see it full of beautiful houses and see that everyone is happy,” she said.
Her sister, Kindah, 12, who was packing boxes next her, said she was also saddened by the deaths of children.
“My mum is watching the news all the time and is deeply worried about her family and is extremely sad,” she said.
“All I wish is for them in Gaza to one day be free.”
Gieetha Kanaan, from India, a 49-year-old professor at BITS Pilani Institute of Technology and Science in Dubai, emphasised the importance of setting an example for her students.
“Seeing children dying makes me very sad,” she said. “I wish people become more human and stop killing anybody, especially children; it's so unfair.
“So many people are suffering, and nobody should suffer.”
Emirati volunteer Shamsa Ali, who was working with the Red Crescent, spoke of her motivation.
“I came to help our people in Gaza and felt like I also needed to encourage everyone to come help,” she said.
The campaign's goal is to prepare 25,000 relief packages, with the support of volunteers from across the UAE, as well as public and private institutions.