Imagine if your child went to a school with leaking classrooms, damp walls and rusty ceilings, where tiles were missing and walls had holes in them. These are the conditions some kids endure daily in the UAE. The Al Manar school, in Ajman, runs solely on private donations and offers free education to 2,400 children from very vulnerable families, who may otherwise get no formal education. Around 700 of these children are orphans, and many are desperately poor. The school manages to give them Dhs5 per day for lunch, but has no spare funds to improve its deteriorating structure.
This month, UAE residents have a chance to help: Dubai-based organisation Colour 4 a Cause aims to tackle the problem head on and is asking for volunteers. Founded last year, this mob of merry helpers, with assistance from sponsors Besix Six Construct (which provides all the materials), have already rebuilt and revamped Al Manzil Centre for Special Needs in Sharjah, and now they’re turning their attention to Al Manar school in Ajman.
Dubai-based aid worker Lola Lopez helped to set up the project. ‘Besix approached me wanting ideas on how they could contribute to the community. We came up with the idea that they could donate their resources and expertise to give much-needed makeovers, both constructional and aesthetic, to charitable organisations that perhaps couldn’t so readily afford any works of that nature.’ Lopez took on the task of looking for a deserving cause, with Besix providing the materials. ‘Their staff take care of the skilled jobs and our volunteers would look after non-skill-specific jobs, such as painting,’ says Lopez.
Volunteer Stanley Norris from Canada worked on the first project and believes children can be hugely affected by their everyday surroundings. ‘Your environment influences your mindset – if you’re in a relaxed environment, you will absorb more,’ he says. ‘The work we do makes a difference in a pretty big way. Having a clean and tidy environment uplifts people, and these kids really need uplifting.’ Norris and around 30 volunteers gave up three weekends to get the task done; with a bit of elbow grease they helped to sand and paint classrooms around the school.
Expat Walid Mansab, originally from Zanzibar, and a managing partner for a cleaning company, was particularly interested in giving to the cause. ‘My cousin has Down’s syndrome, so I understand what the parents of special-needs children go through. Projects like this make a difference to the children’s environment,’ he believes. ‘A school is not all about the technical side of teaching – the place also reflects on the children’s mood.’
Mansab took his technical experience and used it in a supervisory role in the last project, dividing people in to groups and giving them job descriptions. ‘We started off taping the walls, putting plastic on the floor, then sanding the walls and painting. It was really fun being in different teams and working with people from around the world.’
The next project at Al Manar School will also be run solely on donations and people volunteering their time. ‘If it’s not you who volunteers, then who?’ says Mansab. ‘It takes very little to give your time, yet it makes such a difference to people’s lives.’
Lopez has high hopes for the new project; in future she intends to add more deserving charities and hospitals to the roster of buildings awaiting a makeover. Pick up a brush and join them this weekend.
Volunteer on April 22-23 and April 29-30 from 10am-5pm. For more info, see www.colour4acause.org (04 451 1106)