DUBAI //Wafa Roscales Kasimieh moved to Dubai in 1988 wanting, like all migrants, to provide a better life for her family.
Twenty-three years later, the Filipina has accomplished much more: she holds a senior position at a government department in Dubai; helps her Palestinian husband manage their restaurant business; and is deeply involved in charity work.
Last year she won the Presidential Banaag Award, which recognises the achievements and contributions of Filipinos overseas for communities in their home country and abroad.
In the Philippines, Mrs Kasimieh supports a high school in Iloilo province. For five years she has provided scholarships to 30 high school and university students there.
Her work for the Dubai Government for the past 15 years allows her to visit her compatriots in jails and offer counselling and spiritual guidance.
Through that work, donations pour in from people and organisations to help pay for Filipinos' air tickets home and provide assistance to the needy.
Mrs Kasimieh also assists her compatriots, particularly from her home municipality of Lambunao, to find jobs in the UAE through her group Lambunaonons in the UAE.
The organisation, which is accredited by the Philippine consulate in Dubai, hopes to reach out to more Lambunaonons from the across the UAE, says Inocencio Legayada, its president.
There are about 150 Lambunaonons in the country, 80 per cent of whom are in Dubai, he said.
"When Filipinos have labour-related problems such as non-payment of salaries, Wafa refers them to the officials who deal with such cases," said Mr Legayada, who arrived in Dubai in 2001 to work as an engineer. "She is generous both with her time and money."
Mrs Kasimieh, who converted to Islam from Christianity in 1990, was busy during Ramadan with activities she hopes will strengthen the ties of the expatriate community with the UAE Government, and raise awareness of Islam and Islamic traditions.
"Ramadan is a month of blessings," she said. "Every year, I share my blessings to both Muslims and non-Muslims."
Dubai's Department of Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities, where she has worked since 1996, had allocated a budget for mass iftars during this year's Ramadan.
Mrs Kasimieh organised an iftar for Muslim converts of various nationalities at a Dubai hotel last month.
And about 500 members of the Filipino community in Dubai and the Northern Emirates gathered at the Philippine overseas labour office in Hamriya for an iftar she hosted.
"I'd like to unite the Filipino community in Dubai and the Northern Emirates and help the less fortunate," Mrs Kasimieh said.
Also at the iftar were 49 women, mostly housemaids, who were in temporary residence at the Filipino Workers Resource Centre at the Philippine overseas labour office, said Amilbahar Amilasan, the labour attache in Dubai.
The maids had fled from their employers' homes claiming mistreatment and were waiting to be sent back to the Philippines.
"It's all about sharing and giving," said Hanifah Ampatua, who attended the iftar at the labour office and was responsible for a similar event last year.
"You can increase your blessings by providing iftar meals. But more than that, it feels great to give.
"We need to ensure that the less fortunate enjoy the blessings of Ramadan."