x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Should the UAE think about a ‘Peace Corps’?

Expanding the Takatof volunteering scheme would help both needy communities and young Emiratis.

Food baskets are distributed to families in Pakistan earlier this year as part of the UAE Project to Assist Pakistan. Having Emiratis spend time abroad volunteering their services could help their professional development. (Photo: WAM)
Food baskets are distributed to families in Pakistan earlier this year as part of the UAE Project to Assist Pakistan. Having Emiratis spend time abroad volunteering their services could help their professional development. (Photo: WAM)

An addition to existing volunteering programmes would help needy communities and young Emiratis

The UAE’s proud tradition when it comes to foreign aid goes far beyond being, as The National reported yesterday, the largest and most prolific donor per capita in the international community. Unlike some other countries, the Dh506.2 million the UAE has given so far this year is provided where it is needed, rather than used as an adjunct to foreign policy goals.

Whether it is breaking down barriers of distrust in restive areas of Pakistan so millions of children can be vaccinated against the entirely preventable disease of polio, or providing the necessities of life to the innocents who are caught in the middle of the conflict in Syria, the UAE helps lessen misery for millions. This is not simply because this a wealthy country, but also reflects the fact that less-prosperous days here are still within living memory.

While Emiratis old enough to remember conditions before oil came on tap find it easy to empathise with those in need, subsequent generations do not always have that connection. So, perhaps one way of providing younger Emiratis with a more direct engagement with global issues is to find a way for more people to go and work on long-term projects abroad.

The Emirates Foundation for Youth Development’s Takatof programme provides an opportunity to lend a hand where it is needed, such as when it sent teams of volunteers to a working class area of New Jersey to assist in the reconstruction after Hurricane Sandy. But these are one-off projects. An extension to that programme might be something like the US’s Peace Corp, where young volunteers with specific skills like engineering or medicine are provided the opportunity to go work for maybe a couple of years in communities abroad.

The results from programmes like the Peace Corps and Britain’s VSO support the contention that young Emiratis will stand to benefit greatly. This would not be a non-military alternative to national service, which was introduced to give young people the opportunity to give back to and serve the country. Instead it would utilise Emiratis’ professional skills to help others, while raising the profile of the UAE and dispelling ignorance and misinformation about this part of the world. Moreover, an extended period embedded with needy communities abroad would build in participants a deeper understanding of the world, and that is just about right for a country that constantly looks well beyond its spot in geography.