x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Children take philanthropy to labour camps

Their donation drive brought in enough rice to feed 300 men for six months.

DUBAI // Schoolchildren in Dubai and Sharjah collected food, clothes and toiletries for unemployed labourers and managed to donate enough rice to feed 300 men for six months.

The pupils from Raffles International School West, the Australian International School Sharjah and Uptown High School then visited a labour camp to hand over their donations.

Fern McGahey, a learning support co-ordinator at Raffles, came across the charity AdoptaCamp on Facebook and decided it would be a good cause to take up.

"We got together with a couple of other schools and decided to help labourers who have been abandoned by their employers," she said.

The result was a stockpile of dozens of boxes packed with clothes, bars of soap and rice.

Pupils and staff then distributed the donations to labourers in three camps in the Al Sajaa area of Sharjah.

The camps were selected because the labourers were abandoned by their employers.

Ayood Khan, 28, from Pakistan, said that he and hundreds of others had not been paid since May 2009.

"It is wonderful that these young people have come to our camp and helped us with the supplies that we needed," he said.

The children agreed. "It was really great to be a part of this because it is such a worthwhile cause," said Maryam Benredjem, 16, from Algeria, who visited one of the camps.

"I was really shocked by the conditions that the labourers were living in. Most of the men seemed exhausted but they were all really welcoming and thanked us for the donations."

Rohit Iyengar, 15, from India, said he was surprised at how talkative and kind the labourers were.

"To be honest, I was expecting them to be a lot harder to talk to but they were very open," he said. "They talked about their families back home and the fact that they were unable to work and felt so helpless."

In many cases the labourers have been forced to fend for themselves without electricity, running water and no pay, said Michele McLay, a community action service co-ordinator at Uptown High School.

"The men were ecstatic that students would wish to chat with them and the students discovered they are normal, likeable men but with a big problem," she added.

The hard work of the students, teachers and parents was praised by Saher Shaikh, the founder of AdoptaCamp.

"It was fantastic to see the reaction from the labourers to the students and the fact that they had done this to help them," she said.

She set up the charity almost six years ago, inspired after seeing a labourer in a supermarket queue who did not have enough fils to buy bread.

Shaikh offered to help and since then she has bought food and other essentials for workers, largely out of her own pocket.

"I take care of about 38 camps, which is 12,800 workers all around Dubai and Sharjah.

"Most of them are from South Asia but there are many from places like the Philippines and Vietnam."

She works closely with the Ministry of Labour, adding that "they are working very hard to tackle this issue".

The project was so successful that the schools plan for the collection to become an annual event.

nhanif@thenational.ae