DUBAI // Seven years ago today, at the age of 56, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum assumed the office of his brother to become the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.
In that time, the emirate has celebrated astronomical expansion and the construction of now unmistakable landmarks including the Palm Jumeirah and the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.
On Sunday, Sheikh Mohammed issued a statement asking anyone who wanted to celebrate his accession to do so by honouring those who deliver the basic services that made Dubai’s expansion possible.
Kader Batcha, a 60-year-old bus driver from Chennai, was among a group of more than 30 workers who visited the Burj Khalifa observation deck yesterday.
The trip was organised by Dubai Municipality as part of Sheikh Mohammed’s “Thank You” campaign, and for Mr Batcha it could not have come at a better time.
At the end of this month, after working for the municipality for 35 years, he will return home to begin his retirement.
“I’ve dropped so many people here at Burj Khalifa, but this is my first time inside,” Mr Batcha said.
The beaming smile on his face showed everyone just how excited he was.
“I’ve not been able to stop smiling since I was told that I would be going to see the Burj.”
He was impressed with the speed of Burj Khalifa’s lifts. “I was a little nervous at first, but when it started moving I was amazed by just how fast it went. They should have this in every building, it would save so much time.”
Looking out over the city that has been his home for the past three and a half decades, Mr Batcha mused: “It’s an incredible accomplishment. Not just the Burj Khalifa, but everything that has happened in Dubai. I saw it all with my own eyes.
“Dubai used to be so small. I sometimes can’t believe that I’ve been living in the same place this whole time.”
One of Mr Batcha’s fondest memories was meeting the former Ruler of Dubai, the late Sheikh Rashid, in the 1970s.
“He was very modest, very down to earth. He would visit the municipality regularly and would take the time to say hello to everyone. We were very few people back then.”
Over the past week Dubai Municipality has embraced Sheikh Mohammed’s “Thank You” initiative by organising trips to Al Boom Tourism Village that included a dinner cruise on a dhow, a tour of Dubai’s landmarks on an open-top bus, a visit to Global Village, and yesterday’s trip to the top of Burj Khalifa.
Officials handed out mobile phone recharge cards and made surprise visits to the work sites of sanitation and horticulture workers to thank them for their efforts.
Today, teams from different sections of the municipality will participate in a cricket tournament at their accommodations.
The municipality says it plans to continue arranging events and trips for its labour staff on a regular basis.
“We always hope to show our appreciation to our staff for their hard work and loyalty to the job,” said Mo’min Al Jasmi, head of the services unit in the Human Resources department, and head of the committee that organised this week’s events.
“These workers are used to just going to work and then back to their accommodations. Whatever money they make, they send back home.
The joy on their faces when they were able to go out and see some of what Dubai has to offer was so incredible we decided to continue such programmes. You have no idea just how huge of a morale boost this is to the workers.”
Before Mr Batcha returns home to India to enjoy the rest of his days with his four children, he will make one more journey. He plans to travel to Mecca to perform Umrah.
“I have been blessed. My life here in Dubai could not have been better. What I’ve been able to provide for my family back home would not have been possible unless I came here,” he said.
“I want to thank Sheikh Mohammed, and Dubai Municipality, for truly giving me the perfect ending to my life here in Dubai.”