ABU DHABI // Hundreds of Emirati volunteers were thanked for their community service last night by members of the Royal Family.
For the 15 men and women honoured as the most-dedicated volunteers, the ceremony offered a chance to shake hands with Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister.
"It's an honour for me," said Shaikha Al Ali, 24, a computer programmer from Umm Al Qaiwain who has put in nearly 200 hours of volunteering.
In total, the 15 volunteers, all registered with the Emirates Foundation for Youth Development, had participated in thousands of hours of community service.
"They are volunteering to give something to the country," said Ms Al Ali.
Maryam Baniyas, 30, an honoree from Sharjah who accumulated more than 400 hours, said she had already signed up for three more projects.
"I wish I could do more and more," she said. "If I got the chance, I wouldn't say no. Some people think after I am recognised and I get the award, I will stop. But for me it's a starting point."
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, also attended the ceremony.
Eight of the volunteers honoured were members of the Emirates Foundation's Takatof programme and the others were from the Sanid programme.
Takatof volunteers give their time to a variety of causes, including serving as "ambassadors" at high-profile events or renovating homes for poor families.
Sanid trains volunteers to respond to emergencies.
Altogether, the Emirates Foundation has about 26,000 registered volunteers aged between 18 and 40; the vast majority are Emirati.
"It's the spirit to serve your country," said Mariam Al Mansoori, a Takatof volunteer and insurance officer from Madinat Zayed who was among the hundreds of volunteers who attended the ceremony at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.
Though the ceremony honoured the 15 volunteers who had put in the most hours since the recognition ceremony in the middle of last year, it was also about thanking volunteers such as Ms Al Mansoori, said the Emirates Foundation chief executive, Clare Woodcraft.
"Really, it's about recognising all of them," said Ms Woodcraft.
The focus of the volunteering programmes is twofold, she explained: to help young people contribute to society and to develop their leadership and confidence.
"Volunteering is a very powerful way of helping young people build the skills they need," she said, adding that volunteering also offers a networking component.
"We get to meet new people, make new friendships," said Mahra Al Mehyas, 18, a Takatof volunteer and university student in Abu Dhabi.
Expatriates can also participate. One of the 15 people recognised last night was Mohamed Ahmed Abdelsalam, 33, from Egypt, a traffic engineer in Madinat Zayed who is an active Sanid volunteer.
"I like these activities - teamwork for others, to help people, to help the country in crisis or emergency cases," he said. Like Ms Baniyas, Mr Abdelsalam said he planned to continue volunteering - he had another Sanid training exercise scheduled this morning.
In addition to Ms Baniyas and Ms Al Ali, the other Takatof volunteers recognised were: Mohammed Al Mansoori of Ras Al Khaimah (1,624 volunteer hours); Hassan Hussein of Abu Dhabi (1,085 hours); Abed Alblooshi of Abu Dhabi (1,005 hours); Ahmed Al Jalboot of Dubai (591 hours); Humaid Al Ali of Ajman (400 hours); and Saoud Areidat of Fujairah (354 hours).
The other Sanid volunteers recognised were: Humaid Al Kendi, team leader for Abu Dhabi island; Hasan Al Hosani, section leader for Northern Abu Dhabi emirate; Taha Al Hamri, team leader for Jebel Ali-Hatta area; Bushra Al Rahoomi, team leader for Deira; Khalid Al Tunaiji, section leader in central Sharjah; and Sharifa Al Baloushi, section leader in Eastern Sharjah.