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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

How the UAE's volunteering spirit is growing a civic-minded and culturally aware community

We should all give back to society with our time and effort, on a local and global scale

A young volunteer hands out water to workers in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
A young volunteer hands out water to workers in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

It is a truth universally acknowledged that through giving, our lives gain meaning and we nurture solidarity, reciprocity and trust in our communities.

Volunteering, in particular, allows us to make direct contributions to society in the hope of finding sustainable solutions for those in need. As the global community faces new challenges, volunteerism will gain both importance and relevance.

The UAE is arguably one of the best models of charitable giving around the world. Every year, this country improves the quality of countless lives through generous donations. In 2017 alone, the UAE donated Dh19.32 billion ($5.25bn) to 147 countries, which represents 1.31 per cent of the country’s gross national income.

President Sheikh Khalifa declared last year the Year of Giving in the UAE. During the same year, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, launched Volunteers.ae, the first and largest nationwide smart volunteering platform. During the Year of Giving, the platform saw 275,000 individuals register and donate more than 2.8 million volunteer hours across the country in support of worthwhile causes. To date, more than 347,000 volunteers and 360 organisations are registered on the platform.

In 2018, a federal draft law was passed to boost the nation’s culture of volunteering. Under the law, volunteers must receive sufficient training, coverage for work expenses, protection against personal injury and property damage and an avenue for complaints. Additionally, the new law advances the government’s ongoing efforts to co-ordinate volunteer work.

The bill will have even greater salience in the lead-up to 2020, as Dubai expects more than 30,000 volunteers to participate in Expo 2020.

In its 2018 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report, the United Nations estimates that more than a billion people volunteer around the world, the equivalent of 109 million full-time workers. Their impact is momentous.

When people are connected, they stand a good chance of overcoming the most pressing issues of our times. Moreover, it tightens the bond between people and boosts solidarity, resilience and global citizenship. That is why the theme of this week's International Volunteer Day 2018 was "volunteers build resilient communities".

Strengthening resilience is not only about managing disasters. It is a key component of all emergency and development programming.

Communities with sustainable educational systems are less susceptible to hazards and quicker to recover when they arise.

When volunteers give the underprivileged a helping hand, whether it is through building a school or enhancing its infrastructure and classrooms, they are playing an integral role in building stable and resilient communities.

By instilling a volunteering spirit in the UAE community, we are developing culturally aware and civic-minded people who are positively benefiting local and global communities.

From this belief, Dubai Cares has a series of local and global volunteering initiatives aimed at encouraging members of UAE society to donate their time, energy and skills to serve their community, support education and become global citizens.

Dubai Cares’ Volunteer Globally is a very popular week-long mission involving 15 UAE-based volunteers who travel to disadvantaged communities around the world to assist in the construction of a school for and with the local community. This volunteering initiative is a testament to how volunteerism brings together people from all walks of life in support of those in need.

Locally, Dubai Cares’ Volunteer Emirates rallies the UAE community throughout the year to donate its time in support of this noble cause.

The initiative has different editions, including refurbishing charity schools, supporting centres for people of determination, delivering summer camps for orphans and children coming from low income families and providing school kits to students in need.

We are now broadening our scope of work to cover volunteering initiatives beyond school and education centers. We have also fully realised the demand for skilled volunteers and we are working towards providing opportunities for UAE volunteers to offer support tailored to their skillset and expertise.

This International Volunteer Day was a chance to celebrate the efforts of all volunteers. They are an extension of our team and we are grateful for their commitment.

As a global philanthropic organisation, we are committed to facilitating volunteerism locally and globally and I urge all of you today to get more involved and give back to society by volunteering your time and efforts and also encouraging your family and friends to do the same.

Let us, through supporting education, build resilient communities.

Tariq Al Gurg is the chief executive of Dubai Cares