Mission to Seafarers
Six miles off the coast of Fujairah lies another world. There are ships as far as the eye can see; hundreds of them, stationary on the water. Some are waiting to come into port with goods, some are waiting for supplies to come to them. Others are bunker vessels – floating petrol stations supplying fuel to the surrounding boats.
The men who work on these ships rarely get to shore – they are stranded out here for months at a time. But for the past two and a half years there has been one place they can go to get away for a change of scenery and some fresh conversation, and that’s The Flying Angel. Run by the UAE branch of Mission to Seafarers – an international organisation operating in 230 ports across the globe – The Flying Angel is the first support boat of its kind in the world. With a crew working seven days a week during daylight hours, it glides into the workers’ quiet isolation so they can climb aboard and make use of its facilities. There is a library, a shop, telephone and internet connection, and a counsellor on hand for those who need support.
It’s a typically sweltering hot summer day when I climb aboard. And when the first sea- farers of the day enter the cabin, there is a gasp of relief as they meet the air-conditioning. The bunker boat they’ve been working on for the past eight months has a broken AC unit. Isham, a 25-year-old seafarer from Ghana, will have been on that boat for a year before he goes home. The most difficult part is missing his family: ‘It gets me crazy,’ he says.
Isham and his friend Theophilus, also from Ghana, went to maritime college and both hope to be captains some day. For now, they work six-hour shifts on the bunker: six hours working, six hours spare time, and then six hours working again. That’s how their days go. There’s not much to do on the bunker: they can’t swim off the boat because it’s too dangerous, and there isn’t much room to play sport or do exercise. Mostly, they watch films and play video games. What would it be like if they didn’t have The Flying Angel to escape to? ‘It would be very bad,’ says Isham. ‘It would be impossible.’
Probably the most valuable service The Flying Angel provides is the telephone and internet connection. It allows these men contact with home, a place that must seem impossibly far from here. But it’s obvious that just having new people to chat to makes all the difference. Every seafarer that comes aboard today is eager to talk. They’re interested in me and where I’m from. They’re also pleased that I’m interested in them. (one of them has just sailed from Madagascar, where he lived in constant fear of pirate raids). Isham and Theophilus invite me onto their bunker and show me around. It’s incredibly hot, and after mere minutes we’re all soaked in sweat. They show me the kitchen and the common room, and I meet the captain. Everyone is welcoming and polite. It’s a different kind of day for all of us.
Ships bring an astonishing 99.3 per cent of all goods to the UAE: necessities, luxuries, and comforts. Practically everything you buy will have come here by ship. And these vessels need fuel, which is why the east coast of Fujairah is the second largest bunker anchorage in the world, with 100-150 ships anchored offshore at any given time. Without the work of these men, we’d be without the things that make our everyday… everyday. We should help them get through their days, too.
The Flying Angel needs your donations: DVDs, books, magazines, toiletries. It also needs your time: simple things like cataloguing the onboard library, organising fundraising events, graphic designers and printers to help advertise fundraising events, volunteers to go out on the boat and talk to the seafarers and people with counselling experience. For more, see www.angelappeal.com.
Charity forms one of the five pillars of Islam, meaning that it is an essential act for all Muslims. Known as ‘zakat’, it is calculated as 2.5 per cent of a person’s savings. Assets have to reach the ‘nisab’ value, which roughly translates to three ounces of gold. The due date to pay zakat is one lunar year after the assets have reached the correct amount, so it doesn’t necessarily fall during Ramadan. Zakat can be given to a variety of worthy causes, such as to feed the poor or to build a school, but the money can’t be given to family members – it’s a donation to be made to others. ‘Zakat is personal between a person and God,’ says Abdul Muhsin, Imam at Jumeirah Mosque. ‘But if you’re ill for whatever reason, donating money to charity will also cleanse your body of the sickness.’
Take My Junk
If one man’s trash is another man’s treasure then Faisal Khan is Dubai’s answer to Long John Silver, and his warehouse in Ajman is his very own Treasure Island. But he’s no villain; Faisal is most definitely a hero to the city’s many impoverished labourers. ‘I lived in Canada but came back to Dubai to oversee my properties,’ he explains as we drive up Sheikh Zayed Road.
‘I saw how many people were leaving things behind when they left the country. So I thought I could redistribute things that would be thrown away.’ And that’s what he does, taking items that are of use to the needy and storing them in Ajman until busloads of labourers can drop by to sift through them. Clothing, furniture, books and TVs: Faisal considers them all for pick-up. ‘I’ll take something that’s worth Dhs500 new and sell it to them for Dhs20,’ he says. ‘That’s pretty fair, right?’ And before you raise your eyebrows about where that money goes, he assures us that any cash not spent on transport costs and warehouse rental will be spent on rice to give out to the workers at the end of Ramadan.
Faisal’s project has been so success- ful that he’s cutting down his collections to one a week during Ramadan to focus on distributing those items that haven’t yet been snapped up – afterwards he’ll be back on the ball. Consequently he doesn’t need any more people to help him collect or sort the items. What he does need is for you to take a look around your place and think: how much of this junk could be someone else’s treasure?
To contribute ‘junk’, email firstname.lastname@example.org with a detailed list of what you want to give and available pick-up times, or visit www.takemyjunkuae.com.
Dubai Foundation for Women and Children
‘Domestic violence is a particularly prominent problem in the UAE,’ says Ohood Khamis Al Suwaidi from the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, the emirate’s only licensed women’s shelter. ‘We think a major cause of this is cultural confusions in inter-racial marriages.’ I’m talking to Ohood at the centre’s grounds, half an hour outside Dubai. Here, among a collection of white buildings donated by the Dubai Police set on rolling green fields, domestic violence and the horrors of human trafficking seem very far away.
The victims (‘clients’ or ‘survivors’ are other official terms used to describe them) that I meet are friendly and relaxed. ‘We house approximately 50 women and children per month, which will increase once our second accommodation building is renovated,’ says Ohood. They’re of various nationalities, reflecting Dubai’s expat culture – although the shelter would like to extend help to more expat groups. ‘Clients stay until they have completed their rehabilitation programmes and are ready to rejoin society,’ explains Ohood. ‘With human trafficking cases, 99 per cent of them want to return to their home countries afterwards.’
A training programme available in 2010 will allow female Dubai residents to volunteer here. ‘We’d love for more women to help take survivors out on trips and teach classes,’ Ohood says. There are also plans for anti-violence campaigns throughout Dubai schools, and for victims to create crafts en masse to be sold in Dubai malls next year. But this all costs money. ‘We’ll need roughly Dhs10million to make our plans a reality,’ says Ohood.
‘If people or companies want to donate they can call our helpline, 800 111. For Dhs500 a month, they can sponsor a woman and child’s recovery.’
Call 800 111 or 04 606 0300 to discuss how to volunteer or donate.
It’s easy to assume there aren’t many people with special needs living in Dubai. Think about it: how often do you see these people? That’s because many are hidden away in their family home. Or at least that’s what Sonia Brewin, director of art education charity Start, tells me. Start specialises in bringing art to special needs children in Dubai, as well as to refugees in Jordan and Palestine. Today, Sonia is at thejamjar gallery in Al Quoz with James, a talented 22-year-old Brit with special needs who is concentrating on painting my portrait. Last week he worked with a local artist to learn a Jackson Pollack-style splatter technique. Before the summer Sonia, along with a group of volunteers, would meet on Tuesdays at thejamjar to paint and draw with children with special needs. For the time being, she is working one-on-one with James.
‘There aren’t enough programmes like this here, where these kids can interact, learn skills and just be kids,’ says James’s mother. James is preparing for an exhibit at thejamjar gallery, so this is clearly a programme with merit. Plus, he is lovely company; enthusiastic and eager to talk. I wonder if my meagre artistic training will be of any use to Start, but Sonia tells me it’s helpful just having volunteers with common sense who are comfortable talking to pupils. Unfortunately, unless Start finds a sponsor for the programme this year, it may be the last time they offer these sessions. We’re certainly hoping that won’t happen.
For more information on volunteering or sponsoring, call 04 368 1128 or email Sonia at email@example.com.
Sharjah Old People’s Home
Sharjah Old People’s Home is one of three government-funded homes in the UAE. It might seem odd at first to have this kind of institution in the Middle East, seeing as the bond of family is an important strength in the Arab world. Sadly, these are the unlucky few who have no family, and so are cared for by Mariam Al Qatari and her team at the home.
The elderly residents are shy at first but slowly warm to my presence and it’s pleasant just to sit and keep them company as they watch TV, read, chat, do a jigsaw or play with the toy basketball net at the end of one of the sofas. All the rooms are very light and airy, with smartly dressed nurses buzzing around and an occasional friend popping by for tea. It’s a therapeutic environment to be in.
Some of the residents have been out for the day, so when they arrive back I help them off the bus and gently settle them back into the lounge. Mariam tells me that it’s also possible for volunteers to go out with the residents when the weather is cooler and take them to Sharjah City Centre mall, a nearby park or the beach. They’re also looking for people who can play an instrument, sing or even just take the time to read a good book to one of the many appreciative inhabitants.
Visiting hours are between 9am-1pm and 4.30pm-9pm. I thoroughly recommend a visit – take some flowers or a gift of food and you’ll always be welcome. Call Sherifa on 050 549 5945 if you would like to volunteer