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?

Ejo #44 – Ramadan: It’s A Time For Giving

And so this is Ramadan. The time of year that our Muslim friends abstain from eating, drinking, chewing gum, smoking, having sex, dancing, singing and having bad thoughts during daylight hours. Wow man, it all sounds rather difficult. If you don’t think so, perhaps give it a go. Say, starting tomorrow. For a month!!!! Yeah, I thought so.


The reasons for fasting are numerous. It’s supposed to give you a greater understanding and appreciation of what less fortunate people experience every day of their lives. People for whom hunger and thirst are a constant struggle. So it fosters compassion. It is also a time for gratitude, for the blessings that have been bestowed upon you. Ramadan is all about showing restraint and self-control. Not just in fasting, but also in the way that you think about, and treat, other people. It’s a time to show good manners, compassion, patience and engage in a feeling of community. Ultimately though, Ramadan is meant to remove the distraction of the trappings of everyday life (sustenance, food, entertainment) in order to allow the faster to focus on communing with God. Ramadan is when a Muslim’s devotion to their faith is at its most concentrated and pure.


It is a really special time in a Muslim’s year, and even though it is something that must be very difficult to do, I have never heard a Muslim complain about having to fast. Everybody seems to do it with great grace.


An aspect of Ramadan that I’d like to talk about a little more is goodwill and charity. The prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him) once said, “A man’s wealth is never diminished by charity.” One of the five pillars of Islam is Zakat, the requirement to donate 2.5% of whatever you have earned that year to aid those in need. Zakat can be done at any time of the year, however it seems that most people tend to give during Ramadan. And I’d like to join in.


Let me tell you something. Living here is hard for me, for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is the major disparity between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. The divide is enormous. I think because we’ve lived in a veritable construction site for the last four and a half years, constantly exposed to the daily grind of labourers, it’s something that we can’t simply ignore. A lot of other people can. It’s not in their face, so they don’t worry about it. I do worry about it. I’ve written often in the past about how the plight of these guys cuts me to the bone. I’ve written about how I’ve tried, in my own very tiny way, to humanise them. To hand them a bottle of juice or some fruit once in a while. To wave hello and goodbye. To smile. It hasn’t been enough, but it’s something. Unfortunately, with the way the construction is constantly changing the landscape around our apartment building, we are no longer in constant contact with any particular labourers, so we are no longer able to develop any kind of bond or friendship or acquaintance. It’s more difficult to make a connection when you don’t see someone every day. Which is why it’s all the more important for me to try to do something special to help ease their lives, even briefly. Even if it’s just for one meal.


My friend Roshni, who used to work with Karama Kanteen is my biggest inspiration. She has devoted her life in Dubai to helping those that need it the most. The men that even the government has shamefully turned their backs on. Whenever I have some spare money, I call Roshni and we organise a hand out. She tells me what food and drinks to buy, and she uses her contacts at the labour camps to rally the men together.


Some of you might remember my Christmas Ejo of 2011, where I organised a collection from friends all around the world. Well, I think that Ramadan 2013 is a fantastic time to do it all over again. A lot of these unfortunate men are Muslim, and they must fast during the hottest time of year. And let me tell you, it has been HOT!


This is the hottest I've ever seen my car register.  Let's just say it was a VERY uncomfortable day - and I was outside for a total of about ten minutes.

This is the hottest I’ve ever seen my car register. Let’s just say it was a VERY uncomfortable day – and I was outside for a total of about ten minutes.


Try to imagine not eating or (even worse) not drinking water for 15 hours a day. Now imagine doing that while you have to work outside in these temperatures. And then, when the time came to break your fast with the Iftar meal (the all-important reward for sacrifices made during the day), all you could afford was a cup of rice and some water. It’s this that I want you to imagine, when I ask you to dig deep and find your compassion, empathy and generosity. My friend Roshni and I will organise a handout to give these guys something to look forward to for one Iftar. A nice cooked meal, some nutritious fruit, laban (yoghurt drink) or juice to wash it down with and maybe even a tasty sweet for dessert.


Last time 14 of us got together and raised 4500dhs and fed close to 450 men. I can’t begin to tell you how amazing it is to be a part of something like this, and I’m sure those of you who donated last time can attest to that. Let’s see if we can get even more people to donate this time. I am not asking for huge donations. If you can spare five bucks, that’s enough to feed someone. If you can spare more, fantastic! As before, every single cent goes towards the men – there are no “hidden costs” to this campaign, everything is done by volunteers. If you are interested, then please email me and we can organise a way for you to transfer the money. I know I have left it late, but please let me know in the next week or so if you would like to donate. And we can collectively bring a little bit of Iftar joy to a group of deserving men.