Meet the youngest and oldest Expo 2020 Dubai volunteers

The Emirati teenager and Indian grandfather are both thrilled to be part of Expo family

Expo's oldest volunteer Mahabir Singhal, 79, says it's important for residents to give back to the UAE.
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An Emirati teenager and Indian grandfather are among the tens of thousands of enthusiastic volunteers keen to help visitors navigate their way around the spectacular Expo 2020 Dubai site.

About 30,000 people in the UAE have been recruited to meet and guide visitors throughout the six-month event.

Eissa Al Naamani applied when he was 16 and was told to wait a couple of years as the minimum age for Expo volunteers is 18.

Luckily for Mr Al Naamani, he turned 18 only days before the Expo opened on October 1, making it possible for him to be part of an event he has dreamt about for years.

It’s great to be part of the Expo family and of the UAE. I like to be part of contributing to the country.
Mahabir Singhal, retired DP World finance director

Determined to be part of the team that welcomed visitors in Dubai, he has spent the last few years bolstering his volunteering credentials.

The UAE citizen joined medical teams conducting free PCR tests in the capital and volunteered at Idex, the International Defence Exhibition and Conference.

“I want my family and leaders to be proud of me,” the teenager who celebrated his 18th birthday on September 29, told The National.

Eissa Al Naamani turned 18 two days before the Expo opened and has been keen on being a volunteer at the World Fair since he was 16. Victor Besa / The National.

“I wanted to volunteer because it’s the biggest event in the UAE.”

Handling fraying tempers of anxious residents keen to complete PCR tests has been a steep learning experience for Mr Naamani, before he helps to manage crowds at the World Fair.

“Sometimes people get angry when it’s hot. I tell them to keep distance, stand in a line and to stay calm,” he said.

“After they finish the PCR test, I go and see them again. I want them to be happy and to think they were treated well."

Expo 2020 Dubai - in pictures

Mr Al Naamani studies at the Elite Private School in Abu Dhabi and aims to join Britain's prestigious Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst after graduating.

The UAE has a long association with the world-class military college with young royals and citizens commissioning as officers.

“I like to work hard. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed said, ‘Nothing is impossible in UAE’ and I want to show young people how this is true," he said.

He hopes young Emiratis will be interested in volunteering after they see him in action at the Expo site where he has been assigned to look after visiting school groups.

“I will tell students they must open their mind and learn new skills from other people,” he said.

“I want very young people to see how they can do good, and how to treat people from other countries.”

Mr Al Naamani has been doing his bit promoting the World Fair to friends, family and acquaintances.

“I tell them to come because they will see new things in technology and experience so many things,” he said.

“We must remember the UAE is only 50 years in this world and in this short time we already have an Expo.”

Part of the Expo family

Expo's oldest volunteer Mahabir Singhal, 79, is retired and has lived in the UAE for more than four decades. He says it's important for residents to give back to the country. Chris Whiteoak / The National

At the other end of the scale is 79-year-old retired finance director Mahabir Singhal.

Mr Singhal will be the oldest volunteer on site and is excited about participating in a show he believes will dazzle the world.

It also strengthens his bond with a country his family has called home for 45 years.

“It’s great to be part of the Expo family and of the UAE,” he told The National.

“It’s more than an opportunity to meet people and guide them. I like to contribute to the country.”

As a founding member of the India Business and Professional Council, one of the oldest associations of Indian businessmen and professionals, he has visited the Dubai South site and seen the vast buildings constructed across the site.

“We gained so much from Dubai. I felt I must give something back,” said Mr Singhal, who retired from DP World as finance director six years ago.

This is an event of a lifetime. How many times do you get an opportunity to see and help with an event like this?”

Mr Singhal is ready for any work assigned to him at the Expo site, saying he has kept fit and busy through his retirement.

A regular golfer at the Emirates Golf Course, he walks 4 to 6 kilometres a day.

On the board of governors of two schools, Mr Singhal also helps at a seafarers' welfare centre.

Thinking back to his first few years in Dubai, he likens the phenomenal growth of the country to the rapid development of Expo 2020.

“In Jumeirah, there used to be one lane and we would drive for miles without passing another car,” he said.

“Driving to Jebel Ali was an event. You had to be careful because crossing camels were a hazard.

“Now we are accustomed to six lanes. Dubai always has a buzz and so many possibilities for business. Life is full of opportunity, education is good and it is a lot of fun for children growing up here.”

Mr Singhal is glad to be a part of the World Fair.

“To host an Expo is a privilege because not every country gets to do this,” he said.

“Dubai and the UAE have done so much to make sure people are safe here.”

Dubai pupils rehearse for their Expo 2020 performances - in pictures

Updated: October 05, 2021, 6:28 AM