charity

Ejo #67 – And Together We Keep On Giving

It’s Ramadan.  The days are long, and they are hot (often over 40C/140F).  A lot of impoverished blue-collar workers are toiling in these inhospitable conditions, and a lot of those men are fasting for the holy month of Ramadan.  Fasting during this period doesn’t just mean going without food during daylight hours.  It also means going without water.

If you’re in the mood for a fun experiment, try not drinking any water for the next 16-17 hours.  For real.  Give it a red-hot go and see how you manage.  I’m not ashamed to say I can’t do it.  I get seriously irritable, light-headed and I can’t concentrate on the simplest of tasks. But let’s say you did OK.  Let’s up the ante.  Next, try it whilst sitting outside in the searing sun with no shade for relief.  Still no problem?  OK, let’s throw some manual labour into the equation.  It starts getting a bit tricky here.  Now do it for a whole month.

One of the wonderful aspects of the Ramadan fasting tradition is Iftar – the breaking of the fast.  Every night, throughout the city, restaurants put on lavish buffet Iftars to reward the fasters for their discipline during the day.  Table upon mountainously laden table, literally groans under the weight of all the food on offer (what they do with the copious amounts of left-overs is the topic of another rant).  It’s a pity that the labourers and street workers of Dubai (and neighbouring emirates) could never even dream of participating in such feasts. Usually the best they can hope for to break their fast is some plain rice and maybe some lentils.  Their usual fare.

So, when we raised a pretty large sum of money in April we decided to keep a fair amount of it so that we could arrange some pretty yummy meals for 450 of these hardworking, unfortunate men to help break their difficult Ramadan fast.  With Roshni’s help and with the help of the amazing Green Palace Restaurant in Karama we put together 450 meals comprising delicious chicken biryani, some dates, a samosa, water, a tub of yoghurt and a nice dessert.  Truly a feast.

The wonderful Green Palace Restaurant.  It is here that they make the large numbers of food packages that we order for the handouts.  Fabulous service, fabulous food, fabulous guys.

The wonderful Green Palace Restaurant. It is here that they make the large numbers of food packages that we order for the handouts. Fabulous service, fabulous food, fabulous guys.

One of the two large vehicles that were packed full of the 450 food packages.  Thanks again to Roshni's regular volunteers for helping make this handout happen.

One of the two large vehicles that were packed full of the 450 food packages. Thanks again to Roshni’s regular volunteers for helping make this handout happen.

One of the enormous pans of chicken biryani.  Looks so good, and smelled SO delicious on the drive.

One of the enormous pans of chicken biryani. Looks so good, and smelled SO delicious on the drive.

One of the best things about this particular handout, and what makes it different to all the others we’ve done before, is that when we arrived at the restaurant the food packages weren’t ready (there had been a misunderstanding about the time we needed them).  We usually just turn up, load the cars and take off to where we distribute the meals.  This time we got stuck in, we got involved in the process.  For about half an hour we crammed into the pretty small restaurant and we rolled up our sleeves and we helped the restaurant staff put the packages together. And, boy oh boy, was it HOT!  At one point I was sweating so much, one of the men silently handed me a box of tissues (which I took with much gratitude).  We shared a moment and it was one of mutual respect.  I’m pretty sure they’ve never had a western chick in there packing biryanis into plastic bags before.  And whilst I’ve always respected this restaurant for helping us with our vision of feeding men who need it, I gained an even higher, newfound, respect for the staff for all the hard work that goes into the packaging.  It was eye-opening, adrenalising and exciting to actually not just GIVE, but to DO.

Another difference was that we went to a labour camp area about half an hour drive from Dubai.  A lot of people like to contribute to the same camps in Dubai, because it’s convenient. So the ones that are further afield tend to miss out.  We weren’t afraid to make the trek, to ensure that some neglected folks got to share some of the spoils of people’s generosity.

I hope you all enjoy checking out the photos below.  For those of you who didn’t contribute, perhaps you’ll be inspired to throw a few bucks in this direction next time we do a large collection.  And for those of you who did give money, once more, thank you.

Leaving behind the bright lights and big city of Dubai.

Leaving behind the bright lights and big city of Dubai.

Arriving at Sajaa, an industrial area of Sharjah where many labourers and workers are stationed.  It's a dusty, desolate place with no streetlights and unpaved roads.  A glaring contrast to the city.

Arriving at Sajaa, an industrial area of Sharjah where many labourers and workers are stationed. It’s a dusty, desolate place with no streetlights and unpaved roads. People live here – a glaring contrast to the city.

Here we go!

And so it begins!

Each of these faces tells a story that we'll never know.  It's one of the things that drives me to keep doing these handouts.

Each of these faces tells a story that we’ll never know. It’s one of the things that drives me to keep doing these handouts. Each person we hand a meal to is a whole person, with a textured, detailed history.  Each of them is important.  

I love this photo - taken by the very talented Roshni.

I love this photo – taken by the very talented Roshni.

Smiles.

Smiles.

David and I took it in turns handing the food to the guys.

David and I took it in turns handing the food to the guys.

More smiles.

More smiles.

Another great portrait from Roshni.

Another great portrait from Roshni.

This guy will take the cardboard boxes that were used to transport some of the meals and recycle it, for pittance.  For some of the men, this is the only form of income they have here.

This guy will take the cardboard boxes that were used to transport some of the meals and recycle it, for pittance. For some of the men, this is the only form of income they have here.

Happy customer.

Happy customer.  We all helped make this one day of Ramadan just a little bit better for him.  He thanked David and me, but he was thanking you too.

And just like that, it's over.  We got to leave, but for some people this is their life.  I'll never get used to the injustice of it.

And just like that, it’s over. We got to leave, but for some people this is their life and their home. I’ll never get used to the injustice of it.

Note: 450 is about the maximum number of meals that can be made at once so we actually still have 194 meals left over from the collection that Roshni will distribute over the course of Ramadan, as she’s doing handouts every single day.  She’s truly an amazing woman.  

Ejo #66 – It Begins At Home (Thank You, Family)

The dictionary defines the word family as:  a group of people who are generally not blood relations but who share common attitudes, interests, or goals.  Admittedly that definition was way down the large list of options, but in this instance it perfectly describes us.  Yes, us.  For when I put out the call asking for your generosity, you answered.  We shared, on this occasion, a common attitude of recognising those less fortunate than us, the common interest of wanting to make a positive change for those people and the common goal of putting some food on their plate.

So we, as a family, put some money together and on a warm Friday morning on the 24th April, at a labour camp near the airport, we handed out bags of rice, lentils and oil to 250 workers. We also gave them a bread roll each, as well as a delicious, hot samosa.

Lining up around the corner

Lining up around the corner

In Australia, this guy would be hanging with his friends, chatting up girls and having fun.  In Dubai, he toils for no minimum wage so he can send money back home to his family and he lives in a labour camp.  That isn't right, and yet he still dazzles us with that smile.

In Australia, this guy would be hanging with his friends, chatting up girls and having fun. In Dubai, he toils in the heat to send money back home to his family – and he lives in a labour camp.  A LABOUR CAMP!  It’s just wrong, yet he’s still capable of that smile.  I just had to smile back and wish greater things for him.  

Some guys are super happy when they get their food and give you huge smiles, others don't and that's OK too.

Some guys are super happy when they get their food and give you huge smiles, others don’t and that’s OK too.  The one thing they do all have in common is that they are grateful.

This guy couldn't stop smiling the whole time - despite his broken arm.

This guy couldn’t stop smiling the whole time – despite his broken arm.

There's really no feeling like giving someone something that they need.  The exchange is meaningful beyond the mere products that you are handing out.

There’s really no feeling like giving someone something that they need. The exchange is meaningful beyond the mere products that you are handing out.

This guy couldn't believe his luck.  Free groceries and a samosa!!!!

This guy couldn’t believe his luck. Free groceries and a delicious samosa!!!!

Another happy customer.

Another happy customer.

Even a bread bun wrapped in plastic is sometimes beyond what they can afford to buy themselves.  It doesn't seem like much, and it probably isn't, but it's something and that's what we are working towards.

Even a bread bun wrapped in plastic is sometimes beyond what they can afford to buy themselves. It doesn’t seem like much, and it probably isn’t, but it has to be better than nothing – right?

Acting as honorary Project Manager for Care2Share (a corporate social responsibility initiative) Roshni is the heart and soul (as well as the brains) behind these handouts. Honestly, we could never do anything like this without her.  On the 26th and 27th June* we’ll take the rest of the funds and, with Roshni’s help, we’ll buy warm meals consisting of chicken biryani, dates, samosa, water, yoghurt and something sweet.  Over those two days, thanks to you, 643 men will be able to break their dry, hot, long Ramadan day of fasting with an Iftar meal that isn’t just sustaining, but actually delicious.

Though it’ll be hot as hell out there, I’m really looking forward to the Iftar handout.  Ramadan is a complex time and the Iftar meal is usually considered a great reward to make up for the difficulties faced, and sacrifices made, during the day.  Most of these guys can’t afford the luxury of a hot meal, and certainly not something as delicious as we will give them.  The gift goes far beyond the food though, something that those of you who have visited and helped with a handout know from experience.  The food is a great gift, yes, but it takes a back seat to the gift of humanity, kindness and compassion (a gift that rewards the giver as well as the recipient).

Thank you all for giving that gift.

It's faces like this that make this more than a worthwhile cause - they make it a personal high.

It’s expressions like this that elevate the effort from worthwhile cause to personal high. 

* David and I will be there on Saturday, 27th June handing out the Iftar meals. The handout on Friday, 26th June will be done by Roshni’s crack-team of regular volunteers – shout out to the men and women who regularly donate their time to help the cause. Not only are they lovely, kind people donating their time to others, they’re actually a hell of a lot of fun to be around.

Ejo #65 – Please Give Me Your Money

Please give me your money so I can buy some food with it. Not for me, but for the guys that toil and struggle every day in their efforts to build (and maintain) this sparkling, modern metropolis called Dubai.

Workers in Dubai

Workers getting on the bus heading back to camp.  The skyscrapers that they build in the background. 

I don’t normally beg for food. And if it was for me, I would actually just rather do without (I could probably stand to lose a couple of kilos anyway). But the money I’m asking you for is for a more worthy cause – one which my longtime readers will already be familiar with. Can you believe it’s been 18 months since I last asked you, my friends and family, to help me bring a smile to a labourer’s face (by putting some food in his belly)? Well, indeed a year and a half has tumbled past, and it’s time for me to once more get on my knees and ask you to part with some of your hard earned dollars.

Those of you who have contributed before know that the driving force behind the food donations is Roshni Raimalwala, the hard-working, behind-the-scenes advocate of the labourers and workers of the city – the ones that the government should be doing more to look after (check out the other work she does with Care 2 Share UAE).  She is out there every week (sandstorms and searing sunshine be damned) organising food and grocery handouts on behalf of companies, schools and sometimes individuals – like us – that wish to help.  During religious holidays like Ramadan and Eid, she also arranges larger hampers filled with toiletries, clothes and bedding.  Things the workers need and want, but simply can’t afford to buy on their own.

Standing in front of the building they'll never be able to enter.

Standing in front of the building they helped to build but will never be able to enter.

On Friday, 24th April 2015, David and I will be going to Muhaisnah labour camp (more commonly known as Sonapur, which ironically translates from Hindi as “Land of Gold”) where Roshni has facilitated a handout to be done by some children from one of the local schools. How wonderful is that??  I really think that growing up in this city, it’s super important for young kids to realise that Dubai is not all about beach clubs, malls, nannies and sparkling new bikes.  If they can see that the reason this city even exists is because an entire collective of human beings from another continent have built it from the ground up, surely that’s a great lesson for them to learn.  Another important lesson is to see that there are people less fortunate than they are, to put a face to those people and to reach their hands out to help them.  To make the situation real.  I believe that compassion is one of the most meaningful things that anyone can learn, and even better to learn it from a young age.  I am really looking forward to participating alongside, and meeting, the young philanthropists who have promised their time and energy towards the cause.  I wish you could come along too – and if you’re in Dubai and are interested, please get in touch with me and we can make that happen.

But if you are in Australia, or the US, UK or anywhere else in the world, and would still like to be involved, then please just pledge me a little bit of dough.  It doesn’t have to be a lot.  If you can make do without ten pounds, or five bucks or even just 20HKD then that will still contribute a great deal towards providing a tired, hungry, poor worker with some food that he otherwise would not have enjoyed.  If you can spare more, that would be even better.

Between us, David and I will match every single overseas donation.  So if you all raise the equivalent of 2000dhs, that’s how much we’ll put in the kitty too.  If it’s more, then we’ll be happy to dig deeper.

After all, it’s just money, right?