x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

'It is the most fulfilling feeling you will ever get in life'

Last night the Emirates Foundation put the spotlight on the 25,000 who are part of its volunteering programmes, the social programme Takatof and the emergency response arm Sanid.

About 900 of the most significant contributors were honoured, with 15 of the biggest contributors highlighted for special appreciation. We spoke to five of them about their contributions to the programmes. John Henzell and Rym Ghazal report

Maryam Baniyas, Sharjah

Sporting a helmet over her scarf, a pair of jeans and a baggy T-shirt, Maryam Baniyas has built chairs, tables, carried heavy boxes on her shoulders and even dug pits, all in the name of charity.

"It is the most fulfilling feeling you will ever get in life when you go out of your comfort zone and volunteer your time for others," said Ms Baniyas, who works at the National Human Resource Development and Employment Authority.

From greeting tourists at the Formula One race, to explaining the history of the UAE to visitors at the annual Sharjah heritage festival, helping to build schools and renovating old homes, Ms Baniyas has spent most of her 20s volunteering.

She is not ready to stop any time soon and has inspired many of her girlfriends to give up their time for good causes.

"People tend to do it once or twice, and say, 'OK, I've volunteered. Done my duty'. I refuse to do that. It is a way of life for me, that when I am not working, I am volunteering," she said.

In 2010, she travelled to Shanghai in China to help man the UAE Pavilion at the World Expo. Last year she went to tornado-struck parts of the United States and also to impoverished villages in Tanzania.

Ms Baniyas's fondest memory, despite the blisters and hard work, is of working on a school in Tanzania, which was initially a single rundown room for 120 students. The UAE volunteers then expanded it to four classrooms with tables and chairs, and a room for the teachers.

"I changed as a person. I became patient and more understanding after my volunteer work. I became a better person," said Ms Baniyas, who is keeping in touch with some of the teachers she met in Tanzania.

"They have the knowledge, they have skills, but just lack the tools and the chances."


Khalid Al Tunaiji, Sharjah

When a colleague casually suggested that Khalid Al Tunaiji join him to attend what he thought would be a simple first-aid course, he never expected it would lead to a passion for volunteering.

Now he has spent more time volunteering than he can recall. Although his schedule was already full, with work with the Sharjah Water and Electricity Authority and his after-hours role as a karate trainer, he found the skills he learnt through Sanid carried over to all parts of his life.

"For example, my job is full of dangers and full of hazards," he said. "In any emergency, they are finding me, yanni, to be very useful. Even in karate training, one time this guy broke his hand and from my training at Sanid, I was able to give him first aid."


Abed Alblooshi, Abu Dhabi

Abed Alblooshi hopes to reprise his role as a volunteer greeter to the UAE stand at the World Expo in Korea last summer in eight years' time.

Except this time he hopes to be welcoming visitors to his homeland if Dubai wins the nomination for the 2020 event.

"I was in Korea for a month and my job was to welcome people to what is UAE culture and what is traditional," he said.

"We were wearing the traditional kandura and ghutra, and we're welcoming VIPs to the pavilion. We were also welcoming other people and talking about the expo, which will come to Dubai, inshallah, in 2020."

By then the time he has spent volunteering should far exceed the 1,500 hours he has accrued so far. "Volunteering is for my people because it's not everything by money," he added. "It's to do some things by the heart."


Mohammed Al Mansoori, RAK

Setting an example for his children is what Mr Al Mansoori does whenever he takes them along for his volunteer work.

"If there is any need in any part of my country, I will drive to it and volunteer my time and my kids' time," said Mr Al Mansoori, a retired member of the armed forces.

With his three sons and a daughter, Mr Al Mansoori can be seen painting old homes, delivering donations and cleaning beaches.

"I wanted to give back to the community. I couldn't just sit at home and do nothing," he said. "It is great, I am surprised whenever I hear someone saying they have no time. Make time. It always leaves you with a positive feeling in your heart. Kindness, going out of your way and giving time to others is both our Islamic and nationalistic duty."


Humaid Al Kendi, Abu Dhabi

When more than two million people visited the UAE Pavilion at the World Expo in 2010, for many their first sight of an Emirati was the welcoming smile of Humaid Al Kendi.

Being the UAE's face to the world is a job he is happy to fulfil, but he would be even happier if the other side of his volunteering is never put to use.

Mr Al Kendi volunteers for both sides of the Emirates Foundation's volunteer work, Takatof and Sanid.

For the latter, he has planned for a disaster in Abu Dhabi city, most recently based around the scenario of an plane crash on Yas Island. It mirrors his day job as an emergency response planner with the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi.

"Sanid means support, and we're supporting emergency response. We're the second line, the backup line behind the Abu Dhabi Police," he said.

"There are three teams on Abu Dhabi island and for each section, we know exactly where the assembly points are, where the evacuation areas are and where the nearest hospitals are. We have to know these procedures exactly."

The Shanghai expo role, for which he spent a month in the Chinese city, was an entirely different experience.

"It was a nice, wonderful experience, representing our country."