Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be moving to a foreign country to live, let alone a country in the Middle East. Over the 2009 Christmas and New Year’s holidays, my husband Roger and I discussed what we wanted the next part of our life to be like. He thought that before retiring, he would like to do one more airport project but only if he could find something very interesting. I half-jokingly agreed that would be fine but could he try for an exotic location? As usual, Roger came through and soon we were headed to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. This blog is a recap of our "leap-of- faith" wanderings around the Middle East and beyond. We joyfully share these expat experiences.

Friday, August 17, 2012

11,000 Volunteers Being Human for Every Human Being – Adopt A Camp Ramadan Care Package Project in Dubai

What do you do when 11,000 volunteers show up?

Saher with her "adopted" boys
from the labor camps
I believe that one person can make a difference in the world. What starts with a small act of compassion can become so powerful that thousands of people join in the crusade.

That is exactly what happened with Saher Sheikh’s random act of kindness one day as she stood in the checkout line at her Dubai grocers  watching a laborer carefully count out his coins for a meager meal of bread and laban (a yogurt drink). Seeing the distress in the man’s face, she steps in, pays for the sparse meal and tells him to go get anything else he wants – he simply gets a strawberry drink.

From this small act AdoptA Camp was born. Adopt A Camp is a grass roots organization that today brings assistance to 43 camps helping more than 32,000 laborers in the Dubai area.

One activity, in partnership with the Dubai Chamber of Commerce, is a community-wide effort during Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of fasting and alms giving. 

The Ramadan Care Package Project brings some joy and a sense of caring to thousands of men who toil in the desert heat of Dubai constructing the buildings and roads we all enjoy.  These laborers  -unskilled and semi skilled - have left their homes in neighboring countries to work in Dubai so they can send their wages home to support their families.

As a “veteran (this is my second year) who speaks English” I am assigned to the Registration Desk. 

I arrive at the Dubai World Trade Convention Centre on time at 8 PM and take up my position while my husband Roger goes inside the hall to get his assignment – constructing the boxes.  Little did we know that it would be 4 hectic hours before we saw each other again.

photo courtesy of Adopt A Camp
Evening volunteers who are to assemble and deliver the boxes are asked to come at 9 pm. By 8:30 pm registration lines begin to form. By 9:15 pm we can no longer see the end of the lines. By 10 pm the scene can only be described as a crush of humanity. 

The Convention Centre cameras document 11,000 volunteers. How many had we anticipated? In our wildest dreams we hoped 5,000 volunteers would show up.

Since moving to Dubai more than 2 years ago, I have witnessed on many occasions the generous spirit of the Emiratis and expats who call Dubai home.  On this particular night, it appears every last one of them is here to help. Needless to say we are overwhelmed. To their credit, the volunteers who stand in line, sometimes more than an 1 hour, are understanding and for the most part patient as we work to process them.

The scene inside the hall where the packages are being assembled is also chaotic. 

photo courtesy of Adopt a Camp

In the morning teams of volunteers unload from trailer trucks the 300 tons of personal hygiene products, clothing, bedding and food items that fill the boxes. 

Evening volunteers  - all ages, nationalities and religions - fill the boxes by moving down assembly lines set up with merchandise.  

Next the boxes are checked to make certain they contain the right items, then the box is sealed and the next team loads the boxes on trucks. 

Seems so simple doesn’t it! 

OK, so it didn’t exactly all go according to plan but by 2 am the job is done and 5050 boxes are filled, loaded on trucks and ready to be delivered to the camp. 

Additional boxes, filled with the “left-over” merchandise, are also loaded on separate trucks for delivery to another camp where recipients are asked to share the contents. I am told that the “bartering” being done at this camp was an interesting activity to witness.       

Unfortunately, Roger and I are unable to go to the camps this year but I understand that once again the joy in the faces of the laborers was enough to put aside the discomfort of the searing heat, the organized chaos, the arduous fasting by the Muslims and the “gut-wrenching” effort needed to make this happen. 

At 6 am the project is complete and deemed a success.  

photo courtesy of Adopt A Camp
As a Christian living in Dubai, I am so impressed with the outpouring of generosity during Ramadan and indeed throughout the year. Single and group acts of charity abound. 

People from almost every country on the earth and from so many different religions - Muslims, Christians, Hindus and others - put aside their political and religious differences and come together for humanitarian causes. 

It is inspiring. That this is happening in an region of the world so full of conflict is a real testament to the generosity of the individual man and our deep respect for one another.
Postscripts . . .

A Message to Volunteers from Saher, Adopt A Camp Founder  “ . . . I want to sincerely apologize to the people who took time out of their busy lives to come and help and could not get a chance to be part of the night. We had 3071 registrations by August 9th morning. We were prepared for and anticipated around 5,000 volunteers but when 11,000+ wonderful people turned up, to put it quite simply, we were overwhelmed. Thos who made it inside got to experience the incredible oneness of Care Packages Night but those who didn't were very disappointed and rightfully so. Everyone came with hearts full of enthusiasm and the best intentions and I am so so sorry, especially for those who brought children, who couldn't participate. I have taken on all of your feedback: the happy and the disappointed and truly, we will have better processes in place next time. . . ” To read Saher ‘s full message go to Adopt a Camp web site.    

Thank you for the donations . . . This year I was asked to raise money to cover the cost of new pillows. Bed bugs and lice are a huge problem in the camps. Fresh pillows go a long way in helping the laborers get a much needed good night of sleep.  Many thanks to my friends here in Dubai, and one generous woman in the USA, who helped raise AED 15,000 ($4087) towards the purchase of new pillows.   

What else does Adopt A Camp do . . . if you want to stay informed about Adopt A Camp activities Like them on FB and visit their web page. But remember to be patient. This is an all volunteer organization just trying to good. 


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