| Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Mother’s nature

Time Out meets caring, sharing and daring mums in Dubai

Mums who share...

A group of mums feeding the community.

Every Thursday, lecturer and mum-of-two, Saba Qizilbash, opens her door to piles of food, from bags of rice to packs of pita bread. It’s her favourite time of the week – discovering just how generous people have been with contributions to her cause, Mums Who Share.

What started in 2008 with the feeding of just 20 labourers has now grown to feed 250-300 men on a JBR worksite. ‘I’d undertaken a community project with construction workers commissioned by Art Dubai and when it ended, I felt dissatisfied,’ says Saba. ‘Also, being Muslim, it’s auspicious to give food on Thursdays, so I brought the two things together.’ Rather than waiting for the right time, Saba simply began dishing out food. It was only when Saba met mum-of-two, Shahneela Ghafur, who’d been doing something similar, that Mums Who Share was born. ‘The group grew very organically,’ explains Saba. ‘Neighbours and friends started to chip in, then we created a Facebook page. We’re a grassroots community initiative that has grown into a neighbourhood charity. Our neighbours are our greatest strength.’

The Thursday food distribution, where each worker receives a five-course meal, runs like a well-oiled machine. Each week, someone sends a call-out on Facebook (‘I’m bringing a bag of lentils and 100 apples’) and so begins the flood of food offers. Parcels are dropped off, sorted, cooked and packed up. ‘We have around seven mums who distribute every Thursday. It’s a bit like a soup kitchen.’

Prompted by labourers’ feedback, the mums have also initiated fundraisers, including a Ramadan ‘care pack’ drive (with essentials like toothpaste and razors); a Christmas ‘donate a shirt’ drive; and most recently, a Diwali ‘donate a blanket’ drive. ‘By creating drives for various cultural festivals, we are able to mobilise different sections of society, so we’re not always relying on the same people,’ explains Saba.

So, have there been many challenges? ‘It used to break our hearts when the food was finished and there were still 20 workers left without,’ says Shahneela, though these days, they invariably have leftovers, which are distributed elsewhere. Now, it’s the frustrations of not being able to do more that affects them most. ‘We are often confronted with the workers’ personal problems and it’s really tough to say ‘no’. But if we say ‘yes’ to one, then it will open the door for so many more and we can’t go that way. Our focus is on feeding our neighbours.’

Now on their third worksite in JBR, the group’s success has inspired similar projects elsewhere in Dubai, including one at Arabian Ranches. ‘It’s a great model and we’re keen for mums in other communities to follow suit. We’re happy to provide workshops to help them roll it out in their own neighbourhoods,’ says Saba.

If this wasn’t enough, they have also engaged the younger generation, recently completing a pilot outreach programme, Kids Who Share. Approached by a neighbour, saddened that her teenage kids had little accessto community work, Saba gathered together a group of nine eager 13-year-olds. Over a four-week workshop, Mums Who Share explained the community need and the processes, getting the kids involved in brainstorming, fundraising, buying, and distribution sessions and enabling them to make contact with the community’s underprivileged.

Supremely successful in opening the teen’s eyes, Saba explains just how important this programme was for them. ‘The process forced them to think not only about how much things cost, but understand exactly how little some people in the community have. They were full of ideas, but the brainstorming session was quite an eye-opener,’ laughs Saba, with initial suggestions including giving the workers their old PS2 games or downloading iTunes for them. ‘It makes you realise how far from reality kids brought up in Dubai are,’ adds Shahneela, who brings her own seven-year-old daughter along to help distribute during school holidays.

The mums are keen to continue the Kids Who Share programme, with schools or individual volunteer teenagers. ‘I have absolutely no issue with stepping outside of my comfort zone and creating a second food distribution on a Saturday, so the community youth can be involved,’ says Saba.

The joy both mums secure from community work is evident. ‘It’s just so satisfying,’ says Shahneela. ‘I know exactly where my money’s going and get to see their faces light up, receiving immediate feedback.’ Saba agrees: ‘Being hands-on is crucial. When I’m standing in the heat handing out food, it’s easier to empathise with the workers. This is part of my routine now, like going to the gym. It’s also made me reevaluate my own life, from the amount of food I waste at home to attending coffee mornings. I used to do a lot of those, but I now dislike seeing so much food going to waste.’

What you can do…

Contribute food and items for specific drives, including this month’s Christmas ‘donate a shirt’ drive. Sign up to Mums Who Share (or Mums Who Share Arabian Ranches) on www.facebook.com. To volunteer your time or get your school involved in the Kids Who Share programme, email Saba Qizilbash on: sabaqizilbash@hotmail.com.

By Kate Birch
Time Out Dubai,

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