In the past six months, local non-profit group Karama Kanteen has donated more than 45,000 meals to the hungry, those on lower incomes or people who just want to eat a tasty, hot meal. Founded in 2008, the Karama Kanteen concept is simple: local companies donate free food, which is prepared according to the Karama Kanteen menu. This could be good-quality budget grub, which can feed thousands of people at a time, or something a little more special, such as quality meats, vegetables and other goods that people from deprived backgrounds in the UAE don’t readily get to enjoy. The latter, of course, costs more, so is not usually available to as many people at a time.
Karama Kanteen’s volunteers often visit labour camps around the UAE. ‘The standards of the labour camps varies,’ says expat Rayana Yusoff from Singapore, who has previously volunteered with Karama Kanteen distributing food in one of the Al Quoz camps. ‘Some of the labourers earn just Dhs800 to Dhs900 a month and live 10 or 15 to a room, in really shoddy conditions with very little food to eat.’ She explains that
Al Quoz is home to some of the better camps in the region, but conditions can still be very basic.
As well as feeding people, the project also brings the community and different nationalities together, bridging that all-too-familiar wealth divide between cultures in Dubai.
‘At first [the labourers] were embarrassed,’ recalls Yusoff. ‘But eventually they warmed to us, and started called their friends from different camps to join in. They were so thankful and some of them even came up for a second helping.’ Depending on the size of the session, there could be 30 or more volunteers helping at the event, usually from at least seven nationalities.
To make it all happen, Karama Kanteen just needs a batch of simple ingredients. Organisers are urging catering companies, restaurants and distribution companies to donate things like basmati rice, dhal, vegetable oil, tomatoes, potatoes and onions. They then ask volunteers to help deliver the food and organise the distribution of the meals.
‘We set up tables, get the pre-prepared food ready and lay it out in the camp in rows, and we hand the labourers plates and water,’ says enthusiastic volunteer Hazem Almalkwi, from Jordan. ‘A lot of the Indian guys don’t speak English or Arabic, so it really helps having volunteers who speak Hindi and other Indian languages so they initially feel at ease. By the end they feel as though there are people to take care of them – they feel less segregated from the rest of society’.
Volunteer Jency Varghese from India agrees. ‘It’s important that people remember we are all human,’ she explains. ‘Their happiness is part of our community, and just volunteering for four hours or so makes a huge difference.’
Karama Kanteen projects take place regularly, when there are enough volunteers and a sponsor willing to offer food. For more info, email firstname.lastname@example.org
How you can help
• Karama Kanteen is desperate for food donations to give to the hungry. If you own or know of a food company willing to help, get in touch.
• It only takes a few hours to make a difference. The project requires dozens of volunteers at a time and while you’re there you’ll make a few new friends in the process.