DUBAI // The Rouhani family cannot remember which natural disaster they were watching unfold on television when they were inspired to help last summer.
Margarite Rouhani told her husband she wished there was a way they could help. Her son Salman, 12, simply asked what was stopping them.
The Rouhani family has run a furniture factory in Dubai since 1954 and their latest business venture, Out of the Box, involves creating outdoor sheds to order.
"That summer, Mom and Dad started to discuss what can be done and what designs Dad can come up with to make shelters for people who lost their homes in floods or other disasters," said Salman, now 13.
The result of those discussions was a new venture, Sheds for the Soul - a housing solution for areas struck by disaster.
The design and technical details are set to be completed by the end of this summer, and the family is looking for support from donors to set things in motion.
A percentage of the revenue from Out of the Box will be used for research and development into designing and building portable sheds.
Once further support and funding is received a prototype will be designed, tested and possibly modified, according to feedback from disaster areas.
"I hope we can help as many people as possible soon," said Salman.
Mrs Rouhani said: "It would start very small but we hope it will be big enough to make a difference. The ultimate reason this started was to build sheds for people in countries where there has been a natural disaster, or poverty where they can't afford to build a home."
The sheds, she said, would be insulated and could be lived in comfortably for many years. The size would vary depending on requirements but the sheds would be flat- packed so humanitarian organisations could transport them easily.
Brigitte Khair Mountain, the head of the external relations centre for GCC countries at the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), said the agency strongly encouraged such initiatives.
"We have front-line responders helping refugees, which means responding to crisis in some of the most remote areas, and we encourage such new initiatives that can help our teams," said Mrs Mountain.
Established in 1950, UNHCR helps more than 36.4 million people restart their lives in at least 120 countries.
"The UAE local and expat society is throbbing with ideas and creative ways to help," said Mrs Mountain. "We are looking at new technology and other fresh ideas. If Sheds for the Soul are lightweight, fireproof and easily assembled, it would be good."
The UN organisation's regional headquarters was set up in Abu Dhabi a year ago and the team is growing.
"There's so much potential in the region and locally we see a lot of goodwill from the government and private sector," Mrs Mountain said. "There is increased individual involvement, donations and volunteering."
With "new blood" and more Emiratis helping in humanitarian initiatives, she said, the UAE's involvement in international efforts would continue to be instrumental.
Mrs Rouhani believes Sheds for the Soul can be part of those efforts.
"There are plenty of great initiatives worldwide but I don't think it's enough to meet demand that's much higher than the supply of help," she said. "The more we can provide in resources and facilities the better.
"We're so busy with the economic recession, numbers have just become statistics to us: '100 people died in a flood'. We forget these are souls, that's why we called it 'Sheds for the Soul'.
"If it were us, we would want someone to reach out to us. We are confident in the ability of our community to help build lives for those faced with unfortunate disasters."
For more information visit outoftheboxuae.com