Dubai Foundation for Women and Children recruits 200 volunteers

Local foundation aims to to spread message about child protection and women's empowerment.

Fatma Hassan Essa (left), media and community awareness manager, and Roudha Abdulla Albahri, activities co-ordinator, at the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children. Jaime Puebla / The National
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DUBAI // Hundreds of volunteers are spreading the message about child protection and the empowerment of women as well as supporting victims of trafficking, abuse and domestic violence.

The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children (DFWAC) has recruited 200 volunteers, of various nationalities and ages, to participate in activities ranging from awareness campaigns to working closely with clients of the foundation.

Volunteers either enrol in the programme, which was launched last year, or they are recruited from universities or from Takatof, a voluntary social effort by the Emirates Foundation that aims to create a volunteering culture.

"Volunteers learn about the immense importance of social responsibility and [these] issues," said Fatma Al Falasi, the social responsibility co-ordinator at DFWAC. "People always assume these cases don't exist and [the volunteers] get to experience them first hand. In addition, they learn skills through the various departments in the foundation."

The volunteers Stacey Al Muhairbi and Amna Albahri have conducted vocational and educational workshops.

Ms Al Muhairbi, from Scotland, taught women of various nationalities paper crafts in a two-hour weekly workshop over three months.

"It worked as an outlet for them to keep their minds off what is going on in their lives," she said. "Some women would come in looking sad and depressed, and just two hours later, after they've created something on their own, just to see their faces is amazing."

These workshops not only provide women with a channel of self-expression, but also an opportunity to develop vocational skills, Ms Al Muhairbi said.

"Some of these items are sold at various exhibitions, such as the ARTE market, where women can earn money for their creations," she said. "Even if they only make Dh20 for a craft, it's a significant achievement for them to earn any money on their own."

Ms Al Muhairbi said she kept that in mind when teaching the women.

"The materials I used are not special - they are ones they can find for Dh5 at any store," she said. "Sometimes they take the leftover items home, and maybe use the material five weeks down the line to create something they could sell."

Ms Albahri, an Emirati volunteer, has helped teach children at the centre how to make crafts, read and write.

A recent graduate from the early childhood development programme at Zayed University, Ms Albahri was surprised by the effect teaching children had on her.

"At first I was very worried about how they're going to accept me," she said. "I was under the impression that they need me to give them power. But it turned out, they gave me strength instead."

For four days, Sultan Al Harthi, 21, commuted from Abu Dhabi to Dubai to help spread a message about child protection during an annual campaign by the DFWAC in April.

He worked four-hour shifts at the Dubai Mall, educating parents about how to protect children from harassment and working closely with children by providing them with drawing and colouring activities related to the subject.

Last year, DFWAC said 31 children who had been exposed to some kind of violence and abuse, or had witnessed abuse by their fathers. These cases formed 28 per cent of the 112 new clients admitted last year.

Fatma Hassan Essa, the media and community awareness manager, said she was impressed with the number of volunteers.

"The concept of volunteering is still very new to the Arab culture," she said. "The spirit of giving is already there, but making it official, in the form of a programme, is still something people feel shy about. But there is no shyness in helping your community."

For Mr Harthi, no persuasion was necessary.

"Everyone says they love their country, but what's the proof of that? What have you done?" he said. "That's why I chose to do something free of charge that will benefit my society, and prove my love towards the UAE."