DUBAI // It started with an e-mail to a few friends. The e-mail was passed on, and passed on, and yesterday more than 300 volunteers gathered at The Shelter in the industrial district of Al Quoz to load six trucks with 26 tonnes of relief packages for the emirate's labourers. "We collect essentials," said Saher Shaikh, the former investment banker who sent the first e-mail. "Things like bed linens, towels, a three-month supply of toiletries and a one-month supply of energy food and drinks."
Mrs Shaikh and her husband, Shamrez, a senior executive at Shaikh Holdings, have conducted three major charity drives in two years. They are not for those in need far away, but for labourers living a few kilometres down the road, in their hometown of Dubai. Volunteers registered and gathered from as early as 10am yesterday to pack the items through to 5pm. More than 2,700 boxes, each weighing 3kg, were taken in a convoy of 25 cars and six trucks to labour camps in the Jebel Ali industrial area.
The volunteers came from a variety of backgrounds. "An event such as this speaks a lot about the character of the people who volunteered and sows the common denominator that brings everybody together," said Chander Mohan, 59, a grandfather and first-time volunteer. He said the event was consistent with his approach to life. "Wherever I find an opportunity I try to contribute," he said. Sareh Ameri-Mills, an interior design student at the American University in Dubai, said she came to know of Mr and Mrs Shaikh's work through her own charity and the volunteer work that she does.
"About five of us came to join and I am very excited to have found this and be able to be a part of it," she said. "We are also co-ordinating for projects together with Saher." Chandran Navlani, a 26-year-old Indian businessman in Dubai, said: "I found out about Saher's work from her Facebook group and joined with my friend, Sanjay. "I felt it's very easy to just give money and be on your way, so I decided that it's better to get involved and experience the act itself."
Marcin Grell, 27, from Poland, and Etienne Booysen, a 26-year-old South African, are bartenders at Oku Dubai. They joined the volunteers after they were told about the event by a colleague. "This is the first time for all of us," Mr Booysen said. "It's great to see the final result of such a huge effort." Mr Mohan, the executive director of Creative Management Consultants, said he had four generations of his family in Dubai, where he has lived for 22 years.
"This is my first time joining this but it's a very good effort and the pleasure is in helping making a positive difference in someone's life," he said. At the Jebel Ali camp, hundreds of labourers lined up in single-file columns and proceeded patiently to collect their boxes. "It's great to see this working so well," said Lara DeBruyn, a Canadian photojournalist who has lived in Dubai for six months. "I have worked in charity in Bosnia and Canada as well, and this is great."
Tarik Kaddoumi, an art director from the Palestinian Territories, moved here only six weeks ago. "Friends told me about this," he said. "I have volunteered before around the world. I am very excited to be a part of this drive." firstname.lastname@example.org