By speaking on the phone to a labourer, for five minutes just once or twice a week, you could change their life, claims the local Adopt a Labourer campaign. Part of Smartlife, which runs charity projects around the UAE, the simple concept was envisaged by a group of colleagues at an advertising firm here in Dubai.
‘It was actually during a smoking break at work that we came up with the idea of how we could help society,’ says Adopt a Labourer co-founder Arun Kumar Krishnan a full-time IT specialist from India.
Shocked at the conditions in which labourers were living, and realising that most of them are stuck in a career rut, Arun and his colleagues started distributing food in the labour camps around Dubai. Yet this was only a temporary solution. ‘We tried to figure out how we can help them on a long-term basis, how to help them to help themselves, and how they can work to achieve their milestones and objectives.’
The labourers Arun has spoken to have different aspirations: some dream of one day sending their children to medical school. ‘One particular labourer had no clue about how his daughter should get there,’ explains Arun. This is where the Adopt a Labourer mentors can help.
‘A volunteer has been able to guide him, tell him that she’ll have to take biology in high school, and advise him about the examinations. It’s as simple as that.’ The primary objective of Adopt a Labourer and SmartLife is not to provide financial aid, and therefore make individuals more lethargic. It is for them to empower themselves and improve their own lives.
Dubai resident Tarek Miknas, from Turkey and Lebanon, works with Arun and is also involved in the project. ‘It breaks down the barriers between different people, those white-collar workers from all sorts of industries, whether banking or media, and those at the camps or blue-collar workers in physical jobs. The gap between the two, which feels like a million miles, then disappears,’ he says. The idea is to help the cause with knowledge. ‘We have access to all sorts of information that they don’t. Even if we don’t know the answers, we can find out.’
Much of the advice given is simple, for example how a labourer would go about bringing his family to Dubai, and the visa requirements and money involved in the process. Yet Adopt a Labourer is also a form of emotional support. ‘There’s a feeling of “someone’s got our back” and “someone’s paying attention to us”, and that alone makes their lives better,’ believes Tarek.
Rex Prakash from India, who works as a new-media specialist in Dubai, was one of the first to volunteer for the cause; he has been regularly speaking to Rajalingam Daddaiah, an Indian labourer. ‘A lot of these workers only receive Dhs800 a month to live on, and from this money they try to send some back home,’ says Rex. ‘They have dreams of living a better life, but can’t network and live in a cocoon.’
Rajalingam has been living and working in Dubai for six years doing the same job. ‘Rex called me every week. I told him what I was doing and what I wanted to achieve,’ explains Rajalingam. ‘He said, “No problem, you can do it – I can help you study.”’ Since Rajalingam first spoke to Rex, he has been given more responsibility at work, performing computer-related tasks, has been involved in computer lessons, and has improved his English. ‘I’m excited to see him develop in such a short amount of time,’ says Rex. ‘His confidence has risen, he now dresses to impress and I speak to him only in English, even though we both speak the same first language.'
Adopt a Labourer has now built up 2,000 labourer contacts, and is urging volunteers to join the cause. ‘We’ll then marry you up with a blue-collar worker to whom you can provide assistance. The only rule is that we have men speaking to men, and women speaking to women,’ explains Arun. ‘You can speak to each other as little or as much as you like, but it all makes a difference.’
For more info or to get involved, see www.adoptalaborer.com (050 287 8193)