x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Thousands answer call to help their community

Organisations draw all nationalities, who donate their effort to tasks from sorting relief aid to filling a need in their field of expertise.

ABU DHABI // The country's primary humanitarian organisation has received what it considers to be a strong response to a call for more volunteers to step forward for community service. The UAE Red Crescent Authority (RCA) said that in the last three months it had received thousands of enquiries and now has close to 400 new volunteers.

"We had a large increase in the number of volunteers from all nationalities - Emiratis, Indians, many people," said Abdullah al Mahmoud, the head of the RCA's volunteer department. "We have received a lot of calls in the last few months, so it has been really great and I am very pleased with the response." The enquiries have come not only from the capital, he said. Branches in Fujairah, Dubai and Sharjah are also accepting more assistance.

In February, Mr al Mahmoud said, the RCA began a campaign to more than double its pool of volunteers within the next two years. The target is to have a base of around 5,000 people the organisation can call on when there is need. The RCA is also trying to introduce more people to volunteerism in both the private and public sectors by encouraging groups to register en masse from top management down, according to Mr al Mahmoud. "We can train them and use them when there is a requirement, in a field which they like. But we can also train them for their own benefit in skills like first aid."

Earlier this year there were some 1,800 volunteers registered with the RCA, donating their time to humanitarian causes. Now there are close to 2,200, who volunteer services based on specific skill-sets, such as engineers and those in the medical field. Others focus on more general tasks. Another group encouraging volunteerism, the national programme Takatof, recently marked its second anniversary.

"There is a lot of energy and desire to volunteer here, so we are a connecting body and focus on developing programmes and matching the interests of the individual with the right field," said Maytha al Habsi, Takatof's director. Takatof, an Emirates Foundation initiative, has more than 7,000 registered volunteers, who donate their time to a range of fields, including working in hospitals, schools and special-needs organisations.

"Through volunteering, people experience a lot of things they would not otherwise have the opportunity to do," Ms al Habsi said. "This experience nurtures the humanitarian side of anyone, and you get to have a better understanding of your community and how you can help." Takatof accepts volunteers of all ages, but with a focus on the 16-to-25 age group. Like the RCA, the majority of its volunteers are Emiratis, but the organisation also has foreign nationals on its books. They are signing up to volunteer in increasing numbers, according to Ms al Habsi, providing a unique platform through which Emiratis and expatriates can interact.

"A big thing that we focus on is creating community bonding through volunteering, which is something you can only experience if you allocate time to volunteer and interact with the community," she said. The volunteers registered with the RCA are called upon whenever there is need, whether it be to distribute and sort aid, or travel as a member of an RCA delegation on a foreign trip. Volunteers are generally residents over the age of 18, but the volunteering department also runs a youth programme.

Those who sign up to become volunteers undergo mandatory training, focusing on basic first-aid skills. Additional training can take place in specialised fields such as fund-raising and disaster relief. For three days earlier this month, the RCA and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies held a workshop for more than 80 volunteers on how to provide support to victims of natural disasters or conflict.

The RCA's volunteer department formally opened in 2000. According to Mr al Mahmoud, however, volunteers have been an integral part of the organisation since it was formally established in the early 1980s. To become an RCA volunteer call 02 641 9000 or e-mail volunteer@uaerc.org.ae. To volunteer with Takatof, log on to takatof.ae or call 800 TAKATOF. zconstantine@thenational.ae