Etihad’s gift of laughter for children of Belgrade
BELGRADE // Hundreds of orphans and disabled people at a shelter on the outskirts of the Serbian capital were overjoyed at receiving donations from Emirati volunteers on Tuesday as part of an Etihad Airways charity campaign.
Residents of the Home for Children and Youth shared smiles, laughs and hugs with the Etihad employees, who distributed 400 blankets, 300 cardigans, and four wheelchairs to residents of the shelter as part of the airline’s Colour Their Lives initiative.
“You can see from their reaction just how important these donations are,” said Aleksandra Tripkovi, director of the home.
Located in Sremica, a suburb south of Belgrade, the home, which is almost 50 years old, now houses more than 300 mentally disabled children and adults.
The centre provides activities, such as handicraft workshops and cardboard packing, to help integrate them into society. “These kind of donations are very important for the survival of the institution in every way,” Ms Tripkovi said.
The home’s occupants showed the visitors their artistic talents through demonstrations of embroidery and painting as well as a breakdancing performance.
Juma Al Dhaheri, the UAE Ambassador to Serbia, believed Etihad’s charity drive was helping to build bridges between the countries.
“This is the UAE’s policy of happiness in action. It is not only for those in the UAE but all human beings and is now reaching the farthest regions,” he said.
“One of the biggest investments you can make is in the people, and here you see it on the humanitarian side.”
Khaled Ghaith Al Mehairbi, senior vice-president of government and aero-political affairs at Etihad, said close contact with the embassy as well as its alliance with equity partner Air Serbia was behind Belgrade being chosen as the location for its latest charity initiative. “These campaigns are a pillar of Etihad. We want to show people that not only do we fly to these destinations, we also get involved and contribute to the local community,” he said.
One of the Etihad volunteers said he jumped at the chance when he was approached.
“I told myself it’s a great opportunity you cannot miss,” said Saif Al Saeed, a graduate manager at Etihad’s corporate strategy department.
Having previously donated his time at a special needs centre in Dubai and Etihad’s annual Walk for a Cause event for autism, the 22-year-old Emirati said volunteering outside the UAE provided a different challenge.
“We didn’t speak the same language but we connected with smiles. It’s hard not to feel sorry for them because they live here while their families cannot care for them but they seemed very happy today,” Mr Al Saeed said.
He urged others to take on similar charity work.
On Wednesday, Mr Al Saeed and the Etihad delegation will take a trip across the Danube River to an asylum seekers’ centre.
Published: September 6, 2016 04:00 AM