x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Abu Dhabi workers kept waiting for iftar meals

Ramadan 2012: Delivery van gets lost on way to hand out free iftar boxes to construction workers in the Shaam-E-Iftaar Ramadan charity drive.

Hungry workers wait for the delivery van outside their labour camp in Al Mafraq, in the outskirts of Abu Dhabi.
Hungry workers wait for the delivery van outside their labour camp in Al Mafraq, in the outskirts of Abu Dhabi.

With just five minutes to go until sunset, 400 labourers waited in silence for a promised delivery of iftar meal boxes.

But as the call to prayer rang out at the labour camp in Al Mafraq, on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, the food had still not arrived.

The Ramadan charity drive, Shaam-E-Iftaar  – organised by the Colors Hindi TV channel and Express Money – was to deliver the free meals to workers at the ACC Construction Company labour camp on Wednesday.

However, the delivery van driver got lost, eventually arriving an hour after sunset. But by then the damage had been done, said labour camp boss Zain Aidi. "What to do? It's too late now. All the Muslims have gone inside to pray," he said.

The charity initiative, which began on July 29, is visiting seven labour camps in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi to distribute more than 6,000 iftar boxes.

Many of the construction workers in Al Mafraq, who are mostly from South Asia and earn about Dh600 a month, said they were left disappointed by the late show.

Naveed Iqbal, 24, from Pakistan, said he had been looking forward to the free food as he was "very poor".

"I must send all my salary home to my family," he said. "I cannot afford to buy a lot of food for iftar, and I have been fasting since morning."

The men work at a construction site outside of Abu Dhabi from 6am to noon. But even though their hours are shortened for

Ramadan, fasting and working is proving to be very hard due to the intense summer heat.

One worker, who had been fasting since 4am, said his throat was "so dry" he could hardly speak.

"No water, no food all day, and working in the sun is very tough," said 28-year-old Bengali Mokalassur Rahman, adding that he was "very hungry".

However, he said it was not so bad that the free food did not show up on time. "It is no problem. I will find food and take some iftar with my friends, or just drink some water," said Mr Rahman.

When the call to prayer sounded at 7.10pm, the crowds of workers waiting outside the camp's walls gave up on their promised meal and quickly walked off to find food elsewhere. Some had even prepared a backup meal, just in case.

"Maybe the food would not come on time, so I already cooked my iftar. I will go eat it now," said Reza Khan, a 21-year-old Afghan .

Many labourers crammed into the camp's grocery store to buy cucumbers, water and fruit to break their fast.

Sachin Gokhale, the head of business in Middle East and Africa for Viacom 18, which operates Colors, said the iftar initiative planned "to reach out with a humanitarian gesture to the lives of workers", who he said were "probably the most hard-working residents in the UAE".

He said the delay had given organisers "some valuable pointers" for the rest of the initiative, which includes a visit to another labour camp in Abu Dhabi.

"It was really humbling to see the patience and warmth from the workers in spite of the two-hour-plus wait," he said.

molson@thenational.ae