Flying high The process of #TheConversationChair project. Image Credit: Supplied

Founded in 2011, in the UAE, out of a desire for equality, the Sameness Project — its registered name is the [sameness] project — aspires to connect the country’s residents through simple acts of kindness, according to project manager Jonny Kennaugh.

Lina Nahhas, a Palestinian-Canadian based in Dubai, established the Sameness Project. After visiting Palestine for the first time and passing through the checkpoints, Nahhas was motivated to promote what Kennaugh called the “idea that all people are worth the same amount of humanity”.

The project, he notes, also aims to liaise between organisations and people through a collective funding model.

He said: “We hope to get more members that exhibit this idea of sameness by coming together and help funding us on a yearly basis.”

According to Kennaugh, PepsiCo is their first member. They helped the project’s ‘Water for Workers’ initiative from June to September, 2013, by donating 5,000 bottles of Aquafina water per month. At the same time, Kennaugh says that the community stepped forward in a remarkable way, the volunteer list rising from 10 to 400 in that time frame.

The Water for Workers effort has thus far given away 30,000 bottles of water to labourers in the UAE. Each bottle “comes with a facecloth that has ‘thank you’ written in six different languages,” Kennaugh said.

The objective is to express gratitude to these workers for all their hard work. And the volunteers “loved the idea of being able to give back and connect with the workers,” he added.

Support from business is vital to sustaining the initiative as a whole, he emphasised.

“Without businesses engaging, we cannot carry on; we need that support from them. Through their investments they will directly engage with the community in a really positive way,” he said.

The groundwork was two-fold, he explains. Along with a third member, the trio concentrated on logistics for a year, asking themselves “what it would look like; how to explain it; and how to connect with people who already know about the idea of sameness but want some kind of tangible experience.”

He said: “The second year, which was 2013, involved doing projects on the ground and making them happen.”

This effort to promote unity among diversity has been met with an overwhelming support.

He said: “People responded really well. They wanted to connect with others, despite all that makes them different. We see people in our events who would not have otherwise connected, realising that even though they are different, some of the things they share, such as their hopes, joys and dreams are exactly the same.”

One project at a time

“We have eight different projects on the go at the moment,” Kennaugh said, with many brewing for the future.

#TheConversationChair project, is one of them that debuted during the Dubai Art Week in March 2013. The interactive piece was originally purchased by Nahhas during the Index Design 2004 exhibition in Dubai. It is an award-winning design.

Helium balloons float between two diagonally connected chairs. Each balloon has a question written on it — a conversation starter, like what is your greatest fear, or what inspires you. Kennaugh explains that two strangers sit down and have a conversation. Some conversations run for five minutes and some have run for an hour and ended in tears and hugs.

The project has been in use during other festivals as well.

Upcoming plans include curating a “sameness-themed book” in collaboration with global initiatives that share similar goals, and transforming Dubai’s white buses into traveling artworks created by the workers who commute in them.

The author is a student Community Journalist.

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