x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Volunteers take pride in rich UAE heritage

Volunteers teach visitors at the same time they are learning themselves.

ABU DHABI // Volunteering gives Faisal Al Kalbani a sense of pride and achievement.

As one of the 50 Takatof volunteers at the Qasr Al Hosn Festival, the 32-year-old Emirati guides visitors around the event's four main areas - marine, Abu Dhabi island, desert and oasis.

"I feel proud as an Emirati," he said. "As Sheikh Zayed said, 'He who does not know his past cannot make the best of his present and future, for it is from the past that we learn'."

Mr Al Kalbani, who works at Al Rahba Hospital, is not new to volunteering, having been with Takatof since 2008.

The Emirates Foundation for Youth Development's Takatof initiative has 26,000 registered volunteers, 95 per cent of them Emirati.

Mr Al Kalbani has volunteered at many local and international events, including the F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the Mubadala Tennis Championships and the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon.

"It's a great job," he said. "At this festival I get to know more about my country's heritage and culture. If they need me for any information or a tour, I'm here."

There are 71 hosts and ushers and 66 craftspeople and demonstrators at the festival. Visitors can watch traditional craftsmen and women at work, find out about Abu Dhabi's rich marine heritage, learn about making cheese, butter and yogurt, date preparation and palm weaving.

"We're working as ambassadors to our country," said Reem Alwi, another Takatof volunteer.

She takes visitors on a tour and patiently answers a wide range of questions fielded by tourists, expatriates and Emiratis.

"A visitor from France asked me why women wear a burqa, while another asked me about the type of songs we Emiratis sing," said Ms Alwi, 20, a media and tourism student at Zayed University.

Many were keen to learn about the UAE's culture and heritage, including Qasr Al Hosn.

"I'm really proud of my country as we celebrate 250 years of the Qasr Al Hosn," Ms Alwi said. "I've always wanted to go inside but it's still being renovated."

Fatima Eisa, 26, a Sudanese volunteer who works as project co-ordinator in Abu Dhabi, said it was important that she learn more about the history of the UAE, where she was born.

"It's a great place to be at the moment," she said. "This festival shows how people used to live near the oasis, desert and the sea. I know Qasr Al Hosn but not as much as I do now."

Westerners, she said, were interested in handicrafts and henna, and were keen to try Arabic food.

Ahmed Abu Ali, 22, a civil engineering student at Abu Dhabi University, was born in Abu Dhabi. His family is originally from Palestine.

"As a volunteer, I tell people about the types of dates, how dates are made or how we prepare them," he said. "Working at the festival has been an amazing experience."

rruiz@thenational.ae