Mother’s nature

Time Out meets caring, sharing and daring mums in Dubai

Saba Qizilbash, mum of two
Saba Qizilbash, mum of two
Shahneela Ghafur, mum of two
Shahneela Ghafur, mum of two
Leila Alami, mum of one
Leila Alami, mum of one
Lesley Cully, mum of two
Lesley Cully, mum of two
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 To volunteer your time or get your school involved in the Kids Who Share programme, email Saba Qizilbash on:

Mums who care...

The Lavendar Drive
A mum raising awareness and funds for cancer.

It was four years ago after Leila Alami’s best friend passed away from cancer that the idea of the Lavender Drive took root. ‘I was propelled by his death to do something, so I commissioned one of my favourite
artists from New York to hold an exhibition in Dubai.’ Raising significant funds, it was only when Leila began to search for local cancer-related charities that she stumbled.

‘I started calling hospitals and the reaction was “we don’t need your help” or “the government takes care of funds”. I was asking to give my money away and nobody wanted it! I finally gave it to the BurJuman Breast Cancer Appeal, which is of course a brilliant cause.’

However, Leila felt that a year-round regional campaign focusing on all types of cancer (represented by the colour ‘lavender’) was needed, a feeling reaffirmed when she discovered that a cancer clinic in Germany was planning to use Dubai as a case study because of a high rise in cancer numbers here.

And when Dania, her cousin’s 12-year-old daughter, passed away from Leukemia earlier this year, Leila decided to focus the distribution of her funds towards children’s cancer, bringing Dania’s mother, Dana Alami, on board as the official spokesperson.

‘Dana has already been involved in raising awareness and funds since Dania’s death. Circle Café held a brunch recently and raised Dhs258,000 for two children with Leukemia,’ explains Leila, extolling the benefits Dania’s Oreo Dessert at Circle Café – ‘not just yummy, but all proceeds go to the child cancer cause.’

So what is the Lavender Drive? Launching last month, Leila is focusing initially on producing and selling products. ‘These products carry the Lavender logo and subtly say ‘general cancer awareness’ so people aren’t going out of their way to say “I’m supporting cancer research”,’ she explains. ‘I’m selling things everyone needs, from beach towels to baby blankets, so people aren’t buying extra, just buying smart.’

‘The drive is 365-days-a-year, with different events planned monthly, so people don’t get tired of it,’ says Leila, who is promoting the initiative through retail outlets and services.

With outlets already onboard in Dubai, Libya and Saudi Arabia, Leila is keen that purchasers know exactly where their money is going. ‘We will offer feedback and “thanks”, so purchasers are aware of who and what their money is benefiting.’

While staff at the Media Rotana Hotel are already donning their lavender ribbons, various designers have joined forces to create lavender versions of their own products. Local designers Alisonja have created a keyring, while accessories designer By Sophie has fashioned a Lavender charm bracelet, available at S*uce. ‘I’d love to add a lavender nail polish in a salon or lavender tea in a café – the possibilities are endless,’ says Leila.

As for the proceeds, Leila has teamed up with Lebanon Children’s Cancer Clinic at St Judes in Lebanon and King Hussein hospital in Jordan and funds will further help any in-need children with cancer within the UAE. ‘We are always hearing cases of children here with Cancer who need chemo and the family can’t afford it,’ she says. ‘So many personal circumstances contributed to this initiative. I just feel that any spare time I have should be given to good.’

What you can do…

Volunteer your services, or, if you’re a business, create a ‘lavender’ product, email: Wear the ribbon or wristband or buy Lavender Drive products, available from Media Rotana Hotel reception, GigiLou boutique at Media Rotana, Candella Trading in The Village Mall, Exhale Fitness Studios in JBR and Motorcity, Favourite Things at Marina Mall, Belle Femme Salon in JBR and Jumeirah, and Ines at S*uce and Galeries LaFayette.

Mums who dare...

‘Buckle up in the back Dubai’ campaign A mum determined to protect children
While we’re all appalled when we see unharnessed children bouncing around in the back of moving cars, most of us do little about the situation. But one determined mum has made it her mission to confront Dubai’s ignorance about child car safety by launching a Facebook campaign, Buckle up in the back Dubai, and is currently taking her message to everyone and everywhere in the city. ‘I was shocked when I saw that, for many people, strapping your child in is simply a matter of choice – and often one that wasn’t taken,’ says Lesley.

It was after numerous altercations with other drivers that the busy mum of two decided to launch the campaign back in May this year. Though the Facebook campaign now has in excess of 1,000 members, Lesley isn’t content to rest on her laurels and has a bigger plan – to target those who will directly benefit from being strapped in properly – the children themselves.

Harnessing ‘pester power’, Lesley plans to launch an education initiative and take her message directly into Dubai schools. ‘It’s easy for parents to ignore what I’m saying or consider my actions interfering, but if their own kids are coming home from school and reminding them that they need to be strapped in, then the battle will be won so much faster.’

With a seat belt simulator (a seat on a ramp that a child sits on to feel a low-level impact) under her belt, Lesley plans to take her presentation to schools, to show kids how wearing a seat belt can make a difference. ‘Though still in the planning stage, I’m determined to make it happen soon.’

Meanwhile, she’s taking her message to school fayres, and with the support of various companies including Move One Relocation, leaflets and car stickers are being produced in both English and Arabic.
‘My main aim is for the same message to be spread across all safety campaigns in order to strengthen the cause,’ says Lesley, who is already in talks with Audi, Al Futtaim and E Sports, the latter keen to spread the message through their sports activities.

‘I want posters across bridges on Sheikh Zayed Road, Modhesh holding up a ‘Buckle Up’ sign, stickers on the back of taxi headrests, TV ads making the message clear,’ she says. ‘There really is no limit to how far this message needs to be spread. The way I see it, if I make just one child safer, then all the effort is worth it.’

What you can do…
Join Lesley’s campaign ‘Buckle up in the back Dubai’ on, spread the word and display a ‘Buckle Up’ sticker in your car. Oh, and make sure you buckle up your kids and yourself – every time!

How you can give...

Give your time or money to one of these special causes.

Give your time Animal Sanctuary & Petting Farm
A farm for rescued animals, you can volunteer your time (kids will love mucking out the duck pond) or visit and provide a donation. (050 273 0973).

Volunteer in Dubai
This not-for-profit outfit helps match volunteers to charities in the region.

Emirates Environmental Group
Protecting the environment through education, get your kids involved in their fun, green activities like The Can Collection campaign (until May) or Clean Up UAE campaign with the next clean-up on December 12., (04 344 8622).

Emirates Marine Environmental Grp
Dedicated to the marine environment, EMEG works tirelessly to clean beaches, harbours and conserve marine life. They welcome families to their ‘clean up beach’ days.,

Feline Friends
Rescues and re-homes abandoned and stray cats and always looking for volunteers. They also hold frequent book sales to raise funds. (050 451 0058).

Give your Money or Stuff Al Noor Training Centre for Children with Special Needs
Helping children with special needs via multi-disiplinary education programmes, you can buy mugs, T-shirts, bags and craft items made by students here at Smiles N’ Stuff in Barsha.
Open Wed-Mon 9am-2pm, 4pm-7pm. (04 340 4844).

The Dhaka Project
Visit their regular garage sale – your purchases will fund slum children in Bangladesh.
Fourth floor of French Connection building from 9.30am-12.30pm (050 418 3270).

Marine Turtle Conservation
Support their project in the GCC by adopting an endangered turtle. Your adoption pack will include a toy turtle, adoption certification, stickers and photo card with facts. All proceeds go to the three-year programme.

Dubai Foundation for Women and Children (DFWAC)
The first licensed non-profit shelter for victims of abuse and trafficking, DFWAC welcome donations of new items for women and children.

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