x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Volunteers repair homes of needy Emiratis

"Now we know how labourers feel," say Emirati volunteers at housing renovation programme.

DUBAI // After office hours, dozens of government employees roll up their sleeves to help refurbish the homes of needy Emiratis as part of a fledgling volunteer movement.

Engineers, accountants, managers, office administrators and computer technicians from various departments pitch in six days a week to renovate the homes of the elderly and those with disabilities as part of a Community Development Authority (CDA) initiative, 'Your Home, Our Home'.

"It doesn't matter whether we are girls or boys, we all do everything," said Amal Al Muhairi, who works in the engineering office of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.

"I come here directly after work and sometimes we work until 8 or 9pm. But I don't feel tired, it is all team work."

The abayas of the female volunteers attract rubble and mud as they scrape fading paint before spreading sealants and primers over cracks.

Clouds of dust swirl around up to 59 male and female volunteers, some wearing gloves and masks as they file down rough surfaces.

The team sport cream jackets with the slogan "Volunteering makes UAE proud" and post photographs on Twitter and Facebook to attract more people.

The strenuous work also gives the volunteers empathy for labourers.

"Now we understand how hard it is for workers because they work more than us and in the heat," said Mohammed Al Hosany, a public relations officer. "It is hard work but when we do it together, it feels easy."

New recruits such as Omar Busit, who joined four months ago, work on scaffolding platforms alongside the CDA's director general, Khaled Al Kamda. "When the people of the house appreciate our work, that is enough for me," said Mr Busit, as he brushed away paint chips that covered his hands and face.

"Everyone is a volunteer here, everyone is treated on the same level."

Mr Al Kamda hopes to inspire a new flood of volunteers in the coming months.

"We should feel we're working on our own house and doing the best we can," he said. "Most have never done such work so they are learning new skills.

"The most important thing is for know-how to be transferred to the volunteers so that the site is full of volunteers doing the work."

The families are grateful for the overhaul they cannot afford to give their own homes.

"This is indescribable joy, I can't explain the feeling, I have no words," said Ibrahim Mohammed, an Emirati who lives with six relatives in a villa off Jumeirah Beach Road. "The house is very old and maintaining it is a financial burden. It's such a kind offer to renew our homes."

The CDA began work last month, visiting families in Jumeirah and Umm Suqeim who are unable to cope with the cost of maintaining ancestral villas. The teams then evaluated and identified repairs required in 12 homes.

Ahmed Saeed Al Bakhit, the head of the volunteering section, aims to upgrade four homes a month when the weather cools within the next few weeks.

There are also plans to extend the volunteer work to homes in other parts of the emirate.

"Non-Emiratis are welcome to join us," Mr Al Bakhit said. "At first we thought only men would join but women said they were ready to be part of this. Volunteers feel happy they have achieved something for our community. It gives us spirit."

The work is guided and supervised by staff from construction, contracting and paint companies.

For Mhannad Saeed, the chief executive of the community support sector, the personal touch was important.

"We have a lot of volunteer work like cleaning up the beaches and desert, but fixing the homes of locals gives a family feeling," he said. "Our aim is for Emiratis to better understand the voluntary concept and to participate more in the community."

rtalwar@thenational.ae

Register as a volunteer for the Your Home, Our Home campaign at www.cda.gov.ae??