ABU DHABI // Despite the reverberating global economic crisis, the emirate's business community reached into its pockets yesterday in aid of one of the world's poorest countries.
A "silent auction" held aboard a superyacht, raised funds for the UK-based charity Ethiopiaid. Auction attendees could bid on a series of exotic lots in aid of the famine-stricken country. These included a previously unseen painting of Sheikh Zayed, the late President of the UAE, a rare, hand-built luxury car and a luxury golf package at Saadiyat Island. A silent auction is one in which there is no auctioneer. Instead, bidders write down their bids and the highest ones win at the end of the event.
The initiative showed that the sense of philanthropy was still alive and well here, said Maria Brown, the Middle East and North Africa ambassador for Ethiopiaid. The charity, founded in 1989, focuses on education and health care for Ethiopian children. Much of its work involves sending tutors to teach basic reading and writing, English language and maths. Other initiatives help Ethiopians learn skills to enable them to become self-sufficient, such as making handicrafts to be sold.
Ms Brown has just returned from her first trip to Ethiopia where even the most basic child health care is expensive. In the capital, Addis Ababa, at least one million people lived in extreme poverty, according to the charity. "There is still a spirit of giving [in Arabic regions], especially as charity is such a key part of the Islamic culture," Ms Brown said. "In spite of the credit crunch, people still come to things like this, so it's a great place to be for raising money."
The event was organised by some of the capital's biggest companies, such as Reed recruitment and the financial advisers De Vere. Aboard the yacht, people were bidding for items that included the limited-edition Maybach Landaulet car, one of only 20 in the world, and the painting of Sheikh Zayed. The car had a reserve price of Dh5.7 million (US$1.56m) while the painting had a reserve of Dh80,000.
The picture, created by Roland Van Meerbeek, who has been painting royal portraits for the past 30 years, drew a great deal of attention. It was painted from a photo of Sheikh Zayed as he chaired his first presidential meeting in 1972. Van Meerbeek's wife, Marie-France, said she and her husband found the country's founder to be an impressive figure. "He was an amazing man," she said. "This country has been so good to us, so welcoming."
It was painted two years ago, and yesterday was the first time it had been put up for sale by the Belgian artist, whose work can be seen in the Emirates Palace hotel. Khalifa al Kindi, 35, an e Emirati oil engineer, considered bidding for the piece as he was a budding art collector. "I like this painting. I am new to this but already have a few pieces," .
Prakash Dhapelia said the painting likewise caught his eye. "It's so real, it's as if he's still alive today," he said. "If I had to bid on anything, it would be this." Steve Rigby, of Professional Investment Consultants, one of the event's sponsors, said he was pleased with the turnout of about 100 people. An avid golfer, he said he was going to take a shot at bidding for a trip to the new Saadiyat Island course. Mr Rigby, who has lived in the UAE for 16 years, said the community had pulled together for the auction.
Kevin Wieczorek, of the international removals specialist Allied Pickfords, was also bidding on the golf package, which had a reserve price of Dh3,000. Other lots included pieces from the Opera Gallery in Dubai, a trip to the 2010 Tony Awards in New York, a fighter pilot package for two and a Christopher Road watch. "Whatever we raise, we'll be happy," said Amanda Clarke, of MD Real Estate, a co-organiser of the event.
A further Dh3,600 was raised through the sale of Ethiopian scarves at the auction. The yacht which hosted last night's event belonged to the British tycoon Lauren Liveras. The vessel normally costs 100,000 (Dh540,000) a day to hire, but was provided free of charge for the event. "You have to be very sensitive about how you do these kinds of things in the current climate," Ms Brown said. "But what a location. I hope I can do this bigger and better next year and make it an annual event."