x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Adopt A Camp, a lifeline for the poor and hungry

Abandoned labourers receive nightly iftars during Ramadan thanks to team of volunteers from a Sharjah organisation.

SHARJAH // Across a nearly deserted road, labourers walk from nearby labour camps to sit down at an unlikely location for an iftar feast. It is a small patch of grass with a few trees - the back yard of the Biryany Kabab House. Most of the workers who gather here at sunset every day during Ramadan are not only unemployed, but their former employers have fled the country, leaving them stranded. Other labourers from nearby camps who join them to break their fast call them "abandoned workers". They live without water, electricity or functioning toilets. They sleep on roofs.

But with the help of the aid organisation Adopt a Camp, 100 workers are being fed during the holy month. Volunteers gather alongside Adopt a Camp's leader, Saher Shaikh, to help with the meals and collect donations. Zunair Anwar, the owner of the restaurant that supplies the food, charges a discounted price to feed the labourers. "Mrs Shaikh said she wanted to do iftar for these workers for the entire month of Ramadan," Mr Anwar said. "When she approached us, I saw this as a blessing."

Mr Anwar arrives early at the restaurant to oversee the cooking. The meals vary slightly every day, but the basics remain the same: catering to the tastes of the workers, most of whom are Bangladeshis and Pakistanis, Mr Anwar serves samosas and deep-fried onions before prayers. Afterwards, sweet rice is served with biryani and meat curry. The meal ends with pink Kashmiri tea. There is enough food for leftovers, which are packaged and sent back with each worker so they may have a suhoor meal as well.

"Even this meal would not be possible," said Zulfiqar Ahmed, a worker who has been without a job for 10 months and is waiting for a settlement from the Dubai labour courts. "We have always had great Ramadans but never thought this would happen, where we would be without work. Ramadan was the last thing on our minds this year. But this generosity shown by people is overwhelming." Sagar Ali and Mohammed Abdul Ratif said they met Mrs Shaikh when they were scavenging through rubbish and fighting over handfuls of food. She initially offered to help them by bringing food and other basic supplies while they waited to hear about their settlements from the courts. As Ramadan approached, Mrs Shaikh sent requests to family, friends and volunteers to help feed the workers.

"There is not much we can do but wait every day," Mr Ratif said. "But this meal, we look forward to it, because without this, we would still be fighting even over an iftar meal." Mrs Shaikh grew up in homes around the world, including some time spent in Pakistan. This is not the first time she has been confronted by poverty, she said. "I don't find it shocking," she said. "But it doesn't lessen the fact that it is heartbreaking."