x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Volunteers spread the message of giving

The programme helps people to find out where to start volunteering and clears up negative perceptions about the UAE's youth, said Ahmed, one of several students who helped to organise the day at Al Hosn.

:Lutfa Akhter, 22, who organised the children’s play area at Al Hosn’s volunteers fair, says giving up her time has also helped her to improve her social skills.
:Lutfa Akhter, 22, who organised the children’s play area at Al Hosn’s volunteers fair, says giving up her time has also helped her to improve her social skills.

Ahmed Al Suwaidi has dedicated many of his free hours to spreading awareness on autism, a subject very close to his heart.

Ahmed, 19, has a young niece with the neurological disorder. He helps to organise autism-awareness campaigns and works as a tutor in his spare time.

Volunteering is also very close to the Emirati student's heart.

Yesterday Ahmed, the student council president at Al Hosn University, was given a chance to extol the virtues of giving up your time to help others on a larger scale at the capital's first volunteer fair.

Organised by the American Corner of Abu Dhabi City, a group that aims to provide information on the US, the event was attended by more than 100 students.

The programme helps people to find out where to start volunteering and clears up negative perceptions about the UAE's youth, said Ahmed, one of several students who helped to organise the day at Al Hosn.

"There is this misrepresentation that people have about my generation, that we think life is all about fancy cars and designer clothes and handbags," he said.

Yesterday's event, which organisers hope will be the first of many, also signals the important role universities play in shaping their students, said Prof Abdul Sabouni, vice chancellor and chief executive of Al Hosn.

"We believe universities have more than just a teaching role," Prof Sabouni said. "They have to be connected to the community and they have to provide services to the community.

"This event came at the conclusion of the academic year and involved about 15 organisations, all of which rely on volunteer work. It has allowed us to exchange ideas about how to help people and encourage volunteers."

Already a volunteer at university and elsewhere, Lutfa Akhter, 22, helped to organise a play area for children at the event.

Moving between the makeshift movie theatre, face-painting booth and arts and crafts, people can see volunteering is a great way to spend their time and improve their social skills, said Lutfa.

"I can talk to people and in the future I will be more at ease contacting people because of my experience," the third-year business student said.

Volunteering is vital to help a community grow, said Victor Hurtado, the deputy chief of mission for the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi who spoke at the event.

With more than 62 million people giving up their time for good causes in the US last year, volunteering is "an essential part of how a community thrives", Mr Hurtado said, and something to which the UAE needed to pay attention.

"It is something we believe in. It has contributed to our country in a very positive way and I think there's something to be gained from it for all countries and all folks … because, let's be honest, as good as government can be and as good as family organisations can be, they have limitations.

"Sometimes you need other institutions to develop and help fill the gaps in society as things become more complex. The UAE is a perfect example of that."

For Ahmed and his fellow students, the UAE is starting to view volunteering in a whole new light.

"I don't want to be a volunteer - I want to volunteer," he said.

"From seeing a smile on a child, or helping a person who can't read or write, volunteering gives you a sense of self-actualisation."

zalhassani@thenational.ae