ABU DHABI // The country's primary humanitarian organisation hopes to more than double its volunteer roster over the next two years to 5,000 people. The UAE Red Crescent Authority (RCA) plans to increase the number of its registered volunteers, now 1,800, to meet a growing demand. "We definitely need more people and we are looking at a target of 5,000," said Abdullah al Mahmoud, head of the RCA's volunteer department. "The Red Crescent welcomes anyone from any nationality, anyone who would like to be a volunteer."
Mr al Mahmoud said the RCA plans to appeal to both the private sector and government bodies to encourage more people to volunteer. "I am confident that the numbers will go up and we will succeed in this," he said. RCA volunteers come from all walks of life and donate their time to activities that relate to their professions or more general humanitarian endeavours.The department maintains a database with profiles of all volunteers, who can be called upon if there is a need for a particular skill.
"We have people who specialise in all kinds of things and when there is a requirement for something we call on them," Mr al Mahmoud said. "People do everything from distributing aid to helping elderly people and evacuating disaster areas in the field." Hundreds of volunteers are active in each emirate, working in particular with what Mr al Mahmoud described as the "poorest and most needy" - people of all nationalities who are struggling to get by, but are sometimes reluctant to ask for help.
"People can simply volunteer their time by looking after the elderly or sitting with orphaned children. But sometimes busy lives get in the way and the number of people able to do that is few," he said. People who register to become RCA volunteers are evaluated and trained before they are added to the database. The training focuses on general first aid and can expand into more specialised fields, such as social care, fund-raising or disaster relief.
Most volunteers are Emiratis, but the organisation has a range of other nationalities on its books. Foreign volunteers must be UAE residents. For the main programme they must be over 25, but there is also a youth programme, in which students work as RCA representatives in schools, promoting the work of the organisation and encouraging people to get involved. RCA volunteers work primarily within the country, although some also accompany delegations on relief operations abroad. For example, volunteers were part of a recent mission to Egypt that delivered humanitarian supplies to Gaza.
While some people volunteer out of a sense of responsibility for their community, others say they are driven by religious and cultural reasons. "First, this is in our religion and as Arabs we are brought up knowing that we should support each other," Mr al Mahmoud said. "Most volunteers join because they have a feeling that they would like to help people and they basically say to us, 'My time is for you, I'm ready to help'."
The RCA's volunteer department opened in 2000, although according to Mr al Mahmoud volunteers always have been an important part of the organisation. "This is what our life was like before, when traditionally we would work for the community at large," he said. "This is part of our heritage." Fathiya al Nizari, an Emirati woman in her 40s, is a vocal advocate of volunteerism. Mrs al Nizari, who has been involved with the RCA for 15 years, used to work in the office of the late Sheikh Zayed, from which she received a generous pension. Since 2005, she has been a full-time volunteer for the RCA, and manages the first aid and community safety department.
Mrs al Nizari has passed on that spirit to her children, all of whom are card-carrying volunteers. To become a volunteer call the RCA on 02 6419000 or e-mail email@example.com. firstname.lastname@example.org