Volunteering in Dubai: Helping Laborers Eat Healthy

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Photos courtesy of Dubai Mums Helping Hands
The end of year can be a wonderful time with many holidays to celebrate, gifts and presents galore, and abundant indulgent food. But let us also remember that some people are not surrounded by friends and families and can be overcome with sadness when they recall the loved ones that are miles away from them.

Many expat laborers working in Dubai working in the construction or service industry make less than $300 a month in wages and are only given a plane ticket home once every two years to see their families. Most have a wife and child(ren) that they are supporting back home that they barely get to see.

I recently volunteered with Dubai Mums Helping Hands (DMHH) which is a public Facebook group whose membership is open to anyone that wants get involved in helping their community:

“Dubai Mums Helping Hands has evolved with the support of kind-hearted people who wish to aid positive change in Dubai. We are a group of people who seek to make the world a better place by spreading love and resources wherever we can find them, to those who need it most. Our mission is to support both men and women in our labor community, and the service people who make Dubai the place we know and love.

You don’t have to be a mother to be a member of this community. We welcome anyone who supports our mission because collectively we are stronger. We have an important responsibility in our community to cross the divide that separates us and provide kindness, compassion, and empathy. Our success is measured by the number of people we reach either together or separately – and equally, by the compassion we bring out in others.”

My first project volunteering with DMHH was “Free Healthy Food Friday’s” where we delivered fresh fruit and vegetables to labor workers living in Al Quoz.

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We were advised to bring 10 bags of fruit and veg with us so I headed to a supermarket and bought 10 bags of different types of fruit and veg.

I wanted to get my son involved with the project so at home, Wee Scotch helped me organize the bags so that the produce was evenly distributed. He was very meticulous in his task as we talked about what mommy was doing and why we were doing it. Wee Scotch has a great heart and I hope we are able to instill in him that we are blessed with what we have and the importance of helping others.

Bright and early on a Friday morning, I met up with the rest of the volunteers at our meeting point in front of Times Square mall and we loaded all our produce onto a typical labor bus. This one had been a school bus in it’s previous life.

Our Transport Bus for the Fruit and Veg Deliveries
As we drove to our delivery site, our guide and one of the masterminds behind DMHH – Stephanie Sutherland – talked to us about the lives and living conditions of the worker camps in Al Quoz (their conditions are not just isolated to Al Quoz but similar all over Dubai and the Middle East). Of the 1000 dhs (USD$272) they might make a month, only 200-300 is spent on food. They work six days a week and if they work on Fridays, their overtime pay is only 30 dhs total for the day (USD$8).

The bus pulled up somewhere in Al Quoz by a couple of worker camps. We all hopped off the bus, grabbing bags of food with us. Many of us felt awkward at first, not sure what to do. The children in the group were initially shy.

But within minutes, as men started walking past our bus, we would stop them and hand them a bag of produce. The men would accept these handouts with looks of confusion on their faces, not sure what they were being given. But their expressions brightened up slightly when they peered inside the bags to see veggies and fruit.

Some volunteers walking back from delivering bags of produce
It took no time for both children and adults to overcome our shyness and awkwardness as we walked up and down the streets looking for men to give our veggie bags to.

We had a couple hundred bags of produce between us all and it seemed like a lot at first but we ran out very quickly. By the time word spread around the camps that there were these random crazy people giving our fruit and vegetables, we had all ran out.

Deliveries done! Waiting for rest of group to return.
A common sight in Al Quoz on Fridays is the “Al Quoz Barbershop” where stools are placed on the sand and 10-15 barbers are cutting simultaneously. There were a couple of these “barbershops” along the street where we were based at.

Al Quoz “Barbershop”
When all the bags were delivered and the group photo was taken, we all got on the bus to transport us back to our meeting point at Times Square.

Here is one of the news articles on Gulf News reporting on this Fresh Food Friday initiative.

When I was volunteering in October, Stephanie was a candidate for the Emirates WomanWoman of the Year 2015 award under the Humanitarian category. She ended up winning the award at a ceremony in late November so big congratulations to her and all the volunteers that make DMHH such a success!

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photo courtesy of Dubai Mums Helping Hands
A parting message from Stephanie when we were on the bus: “You don’t need me to do this yourselves.  You don’t have to go to Al Quoz.”

Please visit the Dubai Mums Helping Hands on Facebook and consider joining the group and volunteering in their projects or for tips on how you can help around your community.

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  1. Amazing post, Sandy! I’m so glad you joined us and took the time to relive it tell others about us. I hope we see you again soon. Happy, Happy New Year!