DUBAI // The phone of the Indian expatriate K Kumar incessantly buzzes with calls from labourers in distress or volunteers relaying information about legal cases. He says the desire to reach out to his countrymen is the force that drives him to take up the causes of dozens of poor workers.
As chairman of the Indian Community Welfare Committee (ICWC), Mr Kumar helps workers languishing in jail who cannot afford air tickets home, or perhaps the blood money required for their release.
"The fact that someone cares enough to talk to them makes all the difference," says Mr Kumar, who moved to Dubai from Chennai in southern India 40 years ago. "Regular prison visits help us know if there are any cases coming up that we need to assist with."
He leads a band of volunteers who also help with the social needs of expatriates, from hospital patients desperate to contact relatives back home to labourers in need of guidance or maids mistreated by their employers.
During hospital visits, ICWC volunteers have found patients with fractures unable to write letters, and others who cannot afford to call home. "We help them and their faces light up," says Mr Kumar, whose day job is as a senior manager with Dubai Ports, a division of the DP World group. "They just need someone telling them not to worry, that things will get better."
He has won several awards for his work in the Emirates, including one given in his homeland last year for his leadership in community service.
Mohammed Mubarak, a former Emirati police officer, started Mr Kumar on his quest to help others 12 years ago by pointing out cases in Dubai's Central Prison.
"More Kumars are required," says Mr Mubarak, a keen sportsman who met Mr Kumar playing squash. "It is in his nature to look for opportunities to help others."
Mr Kumar and his friends pooled together Dh75,000 towards a blood-money fund in 1998 to secure the release of a young Indian worker in an accidental death case. Having friends write cheques in his name during that process made him realise the need for a formal organisational structure. Along with other community leaders, he put forward the suggestion to the Indian consulate and the ICWC was born in June 2000. The group, which operates under the consulate's patronage, has helped in dozens of cases since.
Far from taking credit for the ICWC's accomplishments, Mr Kumar says the backbone of the movement is the dozens of volunteers spread over 78 groups within the organisation covering health, childcare and special needs groups.
Vinod Verma, a legal consultant and part of the core group of 10 volunteers, has witnessed Mr Kumar's passion for helping people.
"He is very, very committed," Mr Verma says. "He takes extra pains to find the relatives of deceased people, to talk to them, to negotiate with insurance companies. He goes to jails and listens to grievances."
He also brushes off praise, saying his inspiration was his late mother. His wife and two daughters are also engaged in welfare work. A flair for languages - he is fluent in seven, including Arabic, Tamil and English - has helped build relationships.
"It's in the blood," says Mr Kumar, who declined to give his age on the grounds that he was young at heart. "I have picked up a small leaf from the life of my mother, who helped the poor in India. I like being part of the community.
"Everyone takes up a hobby. Some read, some jog. This welfare has become a habit. It's God's gift to work with people from all walks of life."
Mr Mubarak says his friend's contribution extends beyond the Indian community, since he has helped organise sporting events such as squash tournaments.
"Kumar helps not only Indians but also contributes to Dubai," he says. " He has supported us organising tournaments with his time and knowledge. He is one person listening to everybody."