Members of the Kenyan Welfare Association. Its Facebook page has close to 5,000 members and offers Kenyans a chance to interact and discuss challenges they face. Image Credit: Courtesy: Organisers

Abu Dhabi: Kenyans in the UAE are increasingly using a new community platform to get in touch with their fellow citizens.

The Kenyan Welfare Association (Kewa), the first formal social organisation of Kenyans in the UAE, is providing a new avenue for the growing Kenyan population in the UAE to interact.

“Our Facebook page that acts as our portal has close to 5,000 members. Members post their enquiries on the life in the UAE or any information they would like to share with others,” said Pennina Nyokabi, 37, Organising Secretary of the association.

The posts on job enquiries and vacancies help both jobseekers and employers in the community, she said. Popularly known as Pesh in the community, Nyokabi has been working as a real estate agent for more than six years in Dubai.

Updates about events in the community help the members to catch up with others. “Often Kenyans report their problems here and there and we try to help them,” Pesh said.

Of 40,000 Kenyans in the UAE, about 30,000 live in Dubai and Sharjah, with over 5,000 in Abu Dhabi, with the rest of the community spread across other emirates, according to Mohammad Gello, Kenyan ambassador to the UAE. Most of them are working in hospitality industry, especially in airlines and hotels.

Kenyans’ English language skills and experience from Kenya’s 100-year old tourism industry give them an edge in the hospitality sector, Gello said. The establishment of the formal organisation will help the growing community, he said.

Kewa was established in December 2013 after formally registering with the UAE authorities. An 11-member committee manages the association.

Abu Dhabi-based Abdul Aziz Al Kathiri, 60, a procurement manager, is the chairman.

“I have been enjoying my life in the UAE for the past 12 years, thanks to the professional exposure and better education opportunities for my children,” he said.

Most of Kewa’s activities are being organised in Dubai, as the majority of the community members are in Dubai and the Northern Emirates. “But we have a plan to establish the branches in Abu Dhabi and other emirates. We have been organising informal gatherings in Abu Dhabi,” Al Kathiri said.

Harith Bin Shahbal, 62, a businessman in Dubai for 14 years and treasurer of Kewa, said the relations between the UAE and Kenya are centuries old. Several centuries ago, Arabs and Iranians had settled down on the eastern coast of Africa. Those links led to increased travel for trade between Arabs and East Africans, he said.

Bin Shahbal said Kenyans have found the UAE to be a land of opportunities and held up his own life as a testimony to the growth opportunities in the UAE.

Bin Shahbal came to Dubai as an employee in the hospitality industry in 2000. After working seven years, he established his own import and export business of cosmetics in 2007. “Own business means you are a master of your own, making most of the benefits!”

UAE laws allow foreigners to establish business without much hassle, Bin Shahbal says. “You never get such opportunities in many countries,” he says.

Salaries for those doing regular jobs too are better than back home, he adds.

Pesh said that back in Kenya there is tough competition for jobs. For the post of a secretary, hundreds of people with an MBA apply!

“Kenyans find better professional and financial opportunities here. And proximity to the UAE is also a factor. “It is just 4.5 hour flight only from Kenya to the UAE.”