A group of volunteers in Fujairah skip family iftars every day as they help feed the needy during the holy month of Ramadan.
As part of Sawaed Al Emarat Volunteering Association, around 250 free iftar meals are distributed daily to low-income families and labourers across the emirate.
These citizens and residents leave their homes every day, four hours before iftar time, to pack meal boxes and then distribute them before sunset.
“Here I can feel productive and the time I spend packing and distributing meals is meaningful and precious,” said Ali Al Tunaiji, one of the Emirati volunteers.
The 28-year-old, who joined the voluntary work in 2010, said giving meal boxes to people who need it the most is extremely satisfying.
It gives him happiness even if he misses iftars with his own family.
“The joy that I see in people’s eyes while handing them the meals makes up for the joy that I get when having iftar with the family and that’s why I’m here every day,” said Mr Al Tunaiji.
The association has around 490 volunteers but only a few are allowed to help out each day.
“They all want to participate and spread the goodness, but I cannot allow more than 10 to 12 volunteers maximum as a preventive measure for their safety and the safety of others,” said Fatima Al Shehyari, director of the association.
Some volunteers are allowed only to pack the meals while others take care of the distribution work.
“I don’t want to have many people in the field or in one room, so we divide the work between 12 volunteers only,” said Ms Al Shehyari, a 40-year-old Emirati mother of two.
The association relies on donations from families of volunteers and community members to buy food and packing material.
“We can serve a maximum of 250 individuals but we can provide more meals once we get more donations,” said Ms Al Shehyari.
“We measure the temperature of the beneficiaries and provide them with masks, gloves and ask them to sanitise their hands before handing over the meals.
“If one of the beneficiaries is found with high temperature, we allow him to rest and recheck his temperature again. If it is still high we report it to the authorities.
“We all feel happy and enjoy having iftar together after making sure that all the people that came to get meals are happy and full.”
The association also collects clothes in good condition and distributes them to low-income families.
“The volunteers came up with the idea of collecting clean used clothes. We pack them in a nice way and give it to people in need,” said Ms Al Shehyari.
“It is the time of giving and we are investing in all our time and resources to give back to the community,” she said.
One of the female volunteers said she barely sees her family during Ramadan as she spends most of her time packing clothes and food.
“I started as a volunteer in 2018 and since then I have dedicated all my spare time in voluntary work,” said Reem Al Mismari, 23.
“I am proud to be a volunteer. I have built a stronger personality and feel for others.
“I don’t regret time spent in voluntary work even if it takes me away from my family. They understand my desire and support my cause.”
The association started as a group of volunteers in 2017. It is now supported by the Ministry of Community Development.
“We rent a small space at Concorde Hotel in Fujairah as we still don’t have our own place yet,” said Ms Al Shehyari.
“We need the support of the community and sponsors in order to get a bigger place to provide more services as a volunteering association and we hope to get it soon.
“Voluntary work is something I can't live without and I treat all the volunteers in the association as my own children.
“We are a very big happy family who cares about others.”