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Paraluman Gonzales and Mary Ann Falqueza pick out books supplied to their labour camp by Libraries for Labour Camps, a group set up to take books to worker accommodations in the UAE. ANTONIE ROBERTSON / The National
Paraluman Gonzales and Mary Ann Falqueza pick out books supplied to their labour camp by Libraries for Labour Camps, a group set up to take books to worker accommodations in the UAE. ANTONIE ROBERTSON / The National
Theresa Culianan reads a book supplied to her labour camp by Libraries for Labour Camps, a group set up to take books to worker accommodations in the UAE. ANTONIE ROBERTSON / The National
Theresa Culianan reads a book supplied to her labour camp by Libraries for Labour Camps, a group set up to take books to worker accommodations in the UAE. ANTONIE ROBERTSON / The National

Cleaners in the capital find solace in written word

When Rita Mayer, a librarian at an Emirati school in Abu Dhabi, visited the camp and was told that the 96 women who live there were keen to read, she resolved to do something about it.

ABU DHABI // For the people who spend long hours cleaning the capital's toilets, life revolves around work and sleep.

So a day off can drag on.

"Many of us do not have anything to do during our day off on Fridays," says Paraluman Gonzales, 53, the assistant manager of the West Coast Company women's labour camp in Musaffah.

But when Rita Mayer, a librarian at an Emirati school in Abu Dhabi, visited the camp and was told that the 96 women who live there were keen to read, she resolved to do something about it.

The result was Libraries for Labour Camps, or L4LC, founded in November. Its first library opened at the camp in December.

Nestled in the corner of the kitchen, it now has around 100 books in English and Tagalog, and volunteers are looking for more in Malayalam, Bengali and Sinhalese.

"It's all about showing gratitude, imparting respect and dignity, and serving those who serve us. Libraries are what I know, so that's what I'm giving them," said Ms Mayer, an American who arrived in the UAE in 2010.

She is working closely with Labour of Love UAE, a small charity that helps Abu Dhabi's labourers.

Mary Ann Salqueza, 29, a cleaner for more than four years, often reads romance novels in Tagalog or English in her spare time.

"We watch movies and replays of TV shows on a laptop but we're happy that a library was set up inside the camp," she said. "It's been mostly work and home for us here."

Avita Mahinay, 36, who has been with the cleaning company for four years, says the library has helped her improve her English.

"You don't learn much when your job is cleaning toilets," said Ms Mahinay, a graduate of accounting from Davao City, southern Philippines. "I read to learn new things other than my job."

She enjoys thrillers by the late American author Robert Ludlum. "I own more than 10 of his books," Ms Mahinay said. "I love of all of Ludlum's Colonel Jon Smith stories, particularly The Hades Factor and The Cassandra Compact,which are so exciting."

Suparna Mathur, a co-founder of Abu Dhabi Cause Connect, said the library has encouraged the workers' love of reading and strengthened their language skills.

"Setting up the libraries also helps make it feel more like a home," she said. "When Rita opened the first library, it was lovely to see her enthusiasm and her desire to connect her passion for education with her service work."

Volunteers from Abu Dhabi Cause Connect have helped provide books to expand the library and set up others. "We were just catalysts that are promoting her work, spreading the word and helping connect L4LC with book contributors and volunteers," Ms Mathur said. "Rita and her team do all the work and heavy lifting."

 

rruiz@thenational.ae

- To donate, contact the organisers at L4LCUAE@gmail.com or search on Facebook for "Libraries for Labor Camps".

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