UAE volunteers quench the thirst of workers

The Water for Workers initiative started in 2011 with about 10 volunteers and now has more than 2,000.

Sriram Raghavan, 10, distributed water to workers in Karama area in Dubai as part of the Water for Workers charity event, organised by the Sameness Project. Pawan Singh / The National
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DUBAI // Hundreds of volunteers handed out bottled water to workers in the city as part of a community initiative to help ­labourers facing soaring temperatures.

The Water for Workers project is not only about charity, organisers say, but to promote interaction between workers and other members of the community. It is sponsored by the Sameness Project, an organisation based in Dubai.

The initiative grew from a small group of about 10 volunteers in 2011 with no more than 100 bottles of water to hand out.

“We are now distributing more than 10,000 bottles and have over 2,000 volunteers. Each time about 200 to 800 show up,” said Lina Nahhas, co-founder of the Sameness Project.

Despite the name, the project “is not about water”, she said.

“This is not a handout cause. Anybody can go and give water. This is about connecting to a big part of the community – sharing a moment with them, giving them a face cloth that has a message on it to allow volunteers to have a conversation,” Ms Nahhas said.

On Saturday, volunteers met outside the gates of the Collegiate American School, where organisers gave them an overview of the project and the importance of engagement.

“It’s not only about construction workers.,” Ms Nahhas told the volunteers.

“It’s about delivery boys, petrol attendants, gardeners.”

“The idea is to open our eyes to those who are in the sun working and to say, ‘I’m like you. I know what it’s like to leave my family’.”

Volunteers chose a location for distribution, ranging from Al Ghusais to Jebel Ali, then picked up the bottled water and face cloths printed with the words “thank you” written in Hindi, Urdu, Malayalam, Tagalog, Arabic and English.

The project gained momentum in recent years and attracted sponsors, such as PepsiCo, which provided two lorries and more than 10,000 bottles of ­water. The company has supported the initiative for about three years.

The project is about building connections within the community, said Huw Gilbert, the company’s vice president of communications for Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

“I’m pleased that we had a huge number of people and provided enough water to meet demand,” said Mr Gilbert.

Ten-year-old Sriram Raghavan handed out bottles of water with his father in Dubai’s Karama area. The pupil at Delhi Private School found out about Water for Workers through another charity project with which he volunteered with, Green Hope UAE.

“I got to experience the hard work that labourers go through on a daily basis. I tried to help and be kind and learnt a lot from this experience,” Sriram said.

Some of the workers seemed initially bewildered when approached by volunteers until they explained the work they were doing. “It’s hot today but not as hot as it gets in July and August,” said a delivery man who was happy with the face cloth and water he received as he passed by Jumeirah.

Ms Nahhas said the volunteers had three or four rounds a year and would increase that number if they had more sponsors. “Empathy-based projects are growing at the speed of light all around the world,” she said.

“We can see in Dubai there is a hunger in the community to be a part of such projects.

“You can’t talk tolerance. You can’t talk happiness. You can’t talk empowerment until the empathy muscle in the heart starts working and this is what our project does.”

The next Water for Workers project is scheduled for the day before Ramadan. For more information, visit thesamenessproject.com.

nalremeithi@thenational.ae