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.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Ramadan Iftar Dinner . . . A generous gesture of mutual respect

The Camp
The stark compound is bathed in the fading sunlight.  The cream colored containers blend with the sand into a monochromatic landscape. It is very still on the island with only the movement a mild gulf breeze breaking the searing heat of the day.  

I see a few men dressed in shalwar kameezs (baggie trousers and long tunics) and lungis (sarong like skirts) waiting around the gate entrance with wary anticipation as we position our cars full of food and gifts just up the hill from the camp. My welcoming wave receives no like response.  I admit that this makes me apprehensive. What if we don’t have enough for everyone? What if we've brought the wrong food?  What if they don’t come for our gifts?

Volunteer Farooque Rao assists the men to
 line up to receive their Iftar dinner and gifts. 

It is the last Friday of Ramadan and the Al Reem Ramadan Charity Project is delivering its first Iftar dinner and gift package to the 250 men living in a labor camp on Al Reem Island in Abu Dhabi, UAE.  Just three short weeks before, through emails and flyers, I began gathering generous souls to help. My goal was to fund one Iftar dinner (the celebratory evening meal during Ramadan) and give the men a gift bag of 5-6 essential personal items and food. (The team so over achieved this goal!)

Mark Fuller, Graham & Vicki Eveille and
Govind Ayyappan assemble gift packages
Ramadan is the Muslim holy month of spiritual renewal, fasting, family gatherings and alms giving. During this holy time many acts of compassion and generosity are performed. The past two Ramadans, while living in Dubai, I joined in the Adopt A Camp program to help provide and assemble 5,000 gift packages for various labor camps. These “care packages” contained personal hygiene products, clothing, bedding, and food items.   

Emily Howells, Csilla Fodor, Nargis Jhetam,  Iman,
Hibo Osman assemble gift packages. 
This past April, we moved to a beautiful apartment on Al Reem Island in Abu Dhabi. From our living room we have a stunning view of the gleaming turquoise Arabian Gulf and the expansive bridge crossing to Saadiyat Island. From my kitchen window I have an unadorned view of a men’s labor camp. Six containers stacked two high with 6 doors each housing 250 men. A meager sand yard and two nondescript buildings complete the very small compound that is defined by a corrugated steel fence. 

One of the gift packages. 
Six days a week, in the intense Abu Dhabi heat, I see the men in their blue overalls with heads wrapped in scarves, as protection from the blistering sun and sand, trudge across the street to build another new luxury apartment building. These men have left their homelands of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to work and earn money to send back to their families. It is hard to believe that this life is a better option for them and their loved ones. It must be hard for the families to be separated during holy month of Ramadan. 

“You can do this,” I say to myself. “So what if you only know three people in Abu Dhabi. You’ve seen the outpouring of generosity from Muslims and non-Muslims alike during Ramadan and you know the first rule of fundraising - you have to ask. And, if you don’t do it, who will?”   

Nicole Dobrata helps distribute gift packages.
My husband Roger is less convinced but promises to fill in any shortages. 

My anxiety lifts on day number ten. AngelWesley, founder of Labor Of Love an informal group that assists laborers, informs me she has a donor for the Iftar dinner, Tamquest Events/Media. Tamquest‘s Smile on the Face program to help laborers also commits to shampoo, hand wash, water, chips,  and more. I tally the other commitments I have for the package and realize with immense gratitude we have a program!

But it doesn't stop here.

Dan Taylor wishes Ramadan Kareem to the men. 
Over the course of the next two weeks the generosity of people in Abu Dhabi is overwhelming. BabS Klyn from Feel Great Helping and Cause Connect post my flyer on their volunteer web sites and BodyTree, my Pilates studio, posts the notice and provides a drop off point for contributions. Very soon the donations outgrow our guest bedroom, seep down the hallway, take over the dining room and pour into our living room.

Did I mention that Roger is a saint?

 Dan Brown and Vicki Eveille hand out Iftar dinners. 
In all, this incredible band of 100+ volunteers fund and deliver four Iftar diners valued at AED 10,000 ($2725) and four gift bags containing a total of 34 pieces of food and personal items with an estimated value of  AED 31,000 ($8447).

This band of volunteers are a virtual United Nations representing many countries and many beliefs - Muslims, Christians, Hindus and others, all who put aside their political and religious differences to come together for a humanitarian cause. It is inspiring. That it is happening in a region of the world so full of conflict is a real testament to the generosity of the individual and our deep respect for one another.

What comes to mind is MargaretMeade’s famous quote, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Nina Brown helps our littlest volunteer Levi Steele!
I do want to express my unending thanks to the residents, the management and maintenance crew of Amaya Towers for the donations, the assistance with assembling the gift bags and the endless trips up and down the elevator carrying boxes of goods. I am also so grateful to Abdel, the camp manager, who was so patient with my question and saw to it the men arrived on time. Also, thanks to Mabadala Development Company, Waitrose, Mafraq Hospital, ParsonsParsons, and Popular Popcorn for their generous corporate support. But the real heroes of the project are the regular folks who reached into their wallets to share their abundance with others less fortunate. 

The perfect thank you. 
As we are about to leave, volunteer Vicki Evielle waves to the small of men gathered in the yard.

“Look, they are waving back at us.”

This simple gesture creates a very heartfelt moment – what a perfect thank you. 

We all wave back. 

Ramadan Kareem.

Iftar Dinner Team August 7.
Liam - the oil man!

Eli and Dan Taylor are the bag boys.

Diana Susann and her children Julia, Mike and Chris tackle the gourmet popcorn.

Bridgette Peetz is the "sweet" lady!

Second set of bags ready for loading by (l.tor.) Govind Ayyappan, Diana Susann,
Narjis, Jhetam, Mohammed Zaklin, Nous Al Hamly, Daniel Pierre,
Lucretia Lee and boys Eli and Liam.  

Yasma Orsand keeps the line moving.  

Iftar Dinner Team August 2

A wave of thanks. 

The Acevedos - Pia, her mother Adele and her father work as a team
to hand
out gift packages. 

Heading back to camp.

Iftar Dinner Team August 3 with men from the labor camp. 

Manar Sultan and Emily Howells handle the fresh fruit.
The best assembly crew in town.


  1. Hi Katie,
    Again, you prove that a little ingenuity and a lot of heart and soul (not to mention some organizational skills, years of experience and a passion for giving back) can make amazing things happen. You are a very special lady and I am so lucky to have you as a friend (and St. Roger too). What an incredible outpouring of support. I'm sure you brought more than a little light into those men's lives.

    Bless you my friend,
    ox Anne :)

  2. Well done, Katie! Your story is inspiring. What a great contribution you are making to your new community. Bravo!

  3. Absolutely Heartwarming! I look forward to working with groups like this in Dubai. I have joined a ladies group in my community that has done something similar. Congrats on the accomplishment and in such a short time. SIMPLY AMAZING!

  4. Hi Katie,

    Wonderful...great work.......Nilofar

  5. This is an excellent post! It inspires me to be a better person, travel more NOW, and be more awesome! travel has made me more fearless and helped me realize what’s important in life.

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