Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 July 2019

An effort to break barriers

Jonny Kennaugh has undertaken steps to help everyone from cabbies to labourers, maids and special-needs children.
Jonny Kennaugh helped launch The Sameness Project with the aim of breaking social and cultural barriers. Satish Kumar / The National
Jonny Kennaugh helped launch The Sameness Project with the aim of breaking social and cultural barriers. Satish Kumar / The National

DUBAI // So many people come to the UAE for a holiday and end up making it their home. But not everyone decides to try to make life here a little better for so many.

Jonny Kennaugh was passing through Dubai while travelling the world with his wife Aimee. A two-month visit became five years.

The New Zealander’s reasons for staying were a mix of opportunity, community and the chance to start a new life in a new culture. But he also wanted to help.

Mr Kennaugh helped launch a social initiative, The Sameness Project, with the aim of overcoming social and cultural barriers.

Since its launch the project has undertaken initiatives to help everyone from taxi drivers to labourers, maids and special-needs children.

In the summer of 2012, Mr Kennaugh and few friends got together to set up Water For Workers. What started as five or six people handing out 30 or so bottles of cold water to labourers working outside in the heat had, by last year, gained so much momentum that 700 volunteers showed up to distribute 120,000 bottles.

“There’s stuff that unites us all so let’s focus on that rather than all the things that separate us,” says Mr Kennaugh.

The We’ve Got Your Back project reaches 800 taxi drivers and 600 cleaners and workers in Mall of The Emirates and Sharjah. Health and fitness professionals teach basic stretches and movements to help alleviate any aches and pains they might feel during their working day.

“The most satisfying thing is when you see people have a real empathetic moment when those they are interacting with,” says Mr Kennaugh.

One initiative that sticks in his mind involved nine domestic workers who were given a pair of Toms shoes each to decorate over a month while recording a video of their stories. The shoes were later auctioned off with the money going to help the women.

Although such barrier--breaking initiatives are universally relevant, says Mr Kennaugh, they are even more necessary in Dubai because of its social and economic diversity.

While the success of the initiatives he helped launch is a source of pride, he is keen to separate them from charity.

“Charity isn’t something we want to be associated with,” he said.

“There’s nothing wrong with charity, but the idea of charity immediately creates barriers, a giver and receiver, rich and poor, which is why The Sameness Project is about sameness.

“Human beings have a tendency to create sub cultures but it means at the end of the day we can forget that all people are just human beings.

“Here, there are so many cultures but we all have pains, dreams and joys.”


Updated: April 7, 2016 04:00 AM