DUBAI // While most teenagers babysit or even tutor after-school to raise extra pocket money, Lamia Makkar and Tasneem Zarroug gave up their free time this summer to help less privileged families in Cambodia and Haiti.
The grade 10 pupils from the American Community School in Abu Dhabi spent the first half of the year doing odd jobs to raise the Dh13,000 needed to help support projects in the two countries before visiting each of them.
From July 23 until August 4, the girls joined a programme in Haiti organised by youth organisation Every Global Potential. They stayed with families in homes with no running water or electricity and helped build walls in a bid to stop erosion and organised a composting scheme. On their last days they also attended a conference discussing with local people the problems affecting their communities.
The experience, said Lamia, who has French citizenship and has lived in Abu Dhabi since she was three, was life-changing.
“I was expecting to be surprised by the level of poverty but instead I was surprised by the level of happiness of the people,” she said.
Tasneem, an American citizen whose mother is from Haiti and father is from Sudan, was also struck by how cheerful and resourceful people in Haiti were. However, she said seeing the community so in need of help and witnessing the poverty made her “want to do something useful”, she said.
“Poverty is a huge issue around the world and I would like to be able to give something back,” said the 14-year-old.
“We are both planning on going back to Haiti,” said Lamia, 15.
The pair also visited Cambodia from June 26 until July 12, where they joined a programme run by the Rustic Pathways youth organisation. They spent time in a small village in the north of the country, where they helped build a fence around the yard of the local school.
“It was right by a busy road, motorcycles sped there and it was very dangerous,” said Lamia.
As well as helping local communities in the two countries, the girls also gained a lot from the trip.
“I guess I learnt how to adapt,” said Tasneem. “I got better at meeting others and interacting.”
As for Lamia, she hopes the experience has given her a step into a future career.
“After the summer, I am pretty positive I want to start my own non-governmental organisation and do service work in different communities,” she said.