A charitable Christmas in Dubai
Time Out Kids talks to nine-year-old Louise Halis, who raised an amazing Dhs15,000 for orphans in poverty-stricken Mongolia
‘I got the idea to help the orphanages in Mongolia after reading their newsletter,’ explains Louise, who lives in Umm Suqeim with her parents and two younger brothers. ‘My aunt runs the Notre Dame orphanage in Ulanbator, which is supported by IWAM [the International Women’s Association of Mongolia]. I decided I wanted to help, so I asked my mum what I could do, and she suggested getting my school involved.’
Louise wrote a letter to her principle at Star International School, asking if they could hold a cake bake sale to raise some money for the cause.
‘We raised Dhs1,800 from the cake sale, and then my teacher suggested that we use the funds from Star Enterprise to help out too. The Star Enterprise fund is where we make things and sell them to provide more equipment for the school. It can be anything from smoothies to bracelets. The total from the fund came to Dhs5,000 – which was amazing!’
From there, Louise continued her fundraising drive, only this time, she decided to tap Dubai’s many companies for cash. She sent out dozens of emails, suggesting ways in which businesses could support the cause. Several came back and agreed to help, which resulted in another Dhs8,000 being raised.
But even that wasn’t enough for the generous-hearted schoolgirl, who then proceeded to collect 10 boxes children’s clothes and toys. The shipping cost was then paid for by Salam Media Cast, following another of Louise's letters. Her mother Tamsin was so impressed at Louise’s efforts, that she promised to take her daughter to Mongolia, so that she could hand over all the donations herself.
‘We thought, we can’t just raise all this money – and then not see where it goes, so we decided to visit the orphanage for ourselves,’ says Louise.
The pair flew to Ulanbator last month, for an experience that Louise now describes as ‘life-changing’. ‘I didn’t know what to expect when we arrived in Mongolia, although I knew it was a very poor country, and that it would be very cold. It was actually –22 degrees when we got there, but it gets as cold as –40!'
‘I’d never seen real poverty before so it was quite shocking at first. While we were there, we went to visit the families that live on the dump. They have these thick tents called 'gurs' with campfires inside them, and every day the parents go up to the dump to search for rubbish. They leave the children behind and alone in the tents because there is no one else to look after them. Lots of the children suffer from serious burns because they have accidents with the fire. These children are so poor, they have no toys, no proper beds to sleep in, their clothes are dirty and old. Sometimes they even fall into the cesspits around the camp too. It’s a very hard, dangerous life.’
The dump, Louise explains, is where many of Mongolia’s orphans come from. ‘There are loads of orphanages in Mongolia because it’s a very poor country and a lot of the children are abandoned by their families because they just can’t afford to look after them. Ulanbator has 48 orphanages alone. My aunty Carole’s orphanage looks after 23 children, all of whom have been there since they were tiny. Most of the children were found as babies at the dump. There was one little boy who was living with a pack of dogs which were protecting him and keeping him warm. He’s four now. Another little girl called Marie Therese was found at the market as a baby, wrapped up in a bundle with a note saying, ‘I wish you a good life’. The stories of how they came to be there are very sad, but the home itself is happy, and now they are like one big family.’
But not many abandoned children are lucky enough to end up in orphanages, as Louise discovered when she visited the government-run police detention centre. ‘The police detention centre is where homeless children stay if they are caught on the streets. These are children who have run away and have started stealing to survive. The detention centre is a half-way house – it isn’t a very happy place. Lots of the children there have scars and burns where they’ve been hurt. We took them some games and sweets, and spent some time playing with them, which they really enjoyed. But I felt very sorry for them.’
As well as providing much-needed equipment for the orphanage, and wrapping 70 ‘baby bundles’ (blankets and baby clothes for new babies at the local maternity hospital) Louise bought fresh food for the children living at the dump.
‘Fruits and vegetables are very expensive in Mongolia because the climate is too cold to grow them. They have to be imported, so most poor people can’t afford to eat them. One of my best memories is when we bought a huge bag of apples and handed them out to the children on the dump. They were so pleased. They literally ate them in one bite!’
After four eye-opening days in Mongolia, it was time to go home. But Louise says the experience has changed her forever. 'We're very lucky in Dubai, and how many things we take for granted. The children in Mongolia don’t have iPhones – they barely even have basic clothes and toys.’
She explains: ‘I never thought I would be able to achieve so much. When I first started raising the money, I thought I’d make around Dhs300. But I managed so much more than that. If I can help like this, then anyone can!’
Louise is so keen to keep on raising awareness, that she’s even making the ultimate Christmas sacrifice. ‘I definitely have to revisit my letter to Santa! I wrote it ages ago and there’s loads of stuff on there I don’t need.
I think mum will be very pleased!’By Time Out Dubai kids staff
Time Out Dubai,