A volunteer hands an iftar meal to a motorist at City Walk, Dubai. Image Credit: Arshad Ali/Gulf News

Dubai: When you leave work at the end of the day during Ramadan, your aim is to reach home in time for iftar. Many may drive in a reckless manner to do so, resulting in accidents. But, a local initiative aims to help out by offering people free iftar meals, so they don’t have to rush.

Al Ihsan Charity Association, an Ajman-based nonprofit organisation, in partnership with the Ministry of Interior and the General Command of Dubai Police, came up with the Ramadan Aman or a Safe Ramadan initiative in 2012 to help reduce the number of accidents.

As part of the campaign, volunteers gather in different areas around the UAE and hand out iftar meals to drivers on the road and at traffic intersections before Maghrib prayers in the month of fasting. They work in collaboration with police departments of the different emirates, hoping that with access to a meal to end their fast, motorists will slow down. This in turn would limit traffic accidents during the iftar rush hour.

This year, 12 people sustained injuries in six accidents in Abu Dhabi on just the first day of Ramadan. In Dubai, one person was killed and 14 others were injured in multiple traffic accidents in the first two days of Ramadan. There were multiple reasons behind these, including reckless driving, fatigue, lack of sleep or low levels of concentration owing to a drop in blood sugar levels due to fasting.

When Colonel Saif Muhair Al Mazroui, Director of Dubai Traffic Police, was interviewed for a report by Gulf News in June 2015, he confirmed that accidents are most likely to occur in the three hours before iftar. “People tend to drive more aggressively between 4 and 7pm,” he had said at the time.

During Ramadan in the UAE, most companies reduce work timings by two hours, as stated by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation, which means a lot of people would leave work around 4pm, which ties in with Al Mazroui’s comments.

An official press release from the Al Ihsan Charity Association states: “Under the directives of the prudent leadership and as part of the Year of Giving 2017 in the UAE, we will focus on social responsibility, volunteering and serving the country. This is possible with the participation of more than 10,000 volunteers of different segments of society.”

Apart from the 1 million meals that the initiative aims to give away for free, volunteers also hand out leaflets to remind drivers of the importance of avoiding speeding and abiding by traffic rules. Through the campaign, 600,000 iftar meals will be distributed in the UAE, 200,000 meals in Saudi Arabia, 100,000 meals in Kuwait and 100,000 meals in Bahrain.

Ali Al Beloushi, an Emirati student based in Al Ain, is participating in the campaign as a volunteer for the second year in a row. At a traffic junction in Al Ain’s Al Maqam area, he gathers with at least 20 other volunteers, who are divided into two teams and work in a systematic manner to ensure that the maximum number of meals are handed out.

He said: “There are two types of volunteers — people who ensure the safety of the other members and people who give the meals to the motorists.”

Arriving 30 minutes before iftar time, the volunteers use a timer to check how long the traffic signals remain green, allowing traffic to flow in different directions.

Al Beloushi said: “When the signal changes to red, these volunteers blow a whistle, which is a signal for the other set to move onto the road and distribute the meals. Five seconds before the signal changes, the volunteers again signal to their team members, ensuring that all of them return to the pavement.”

In a day, Al Beloushi’s team members manage to give away an average of 500 boxes in just their area. According to the Al Ihsan Charity Association, there are 1,300 volunteers registered in Al Ain and they hand out meals at 12 different sites.

No food or water is being consumed by those who are fasting this Ramadan for an average of 15 hours in the UAE. According to a Gulf News report published in August 2011, between 9 and 11am, the body starts losing energy whereas between 3 and 5pm, the body realises it’s dehydrating and slows down its activities. With most people driving home from work during this time, it can thus affect their ability to do so.

The iftar packages may come as a relief to them. They usually contain water, a cupcake, some dates and tissues.

Hamda Al Mheiri, an Emirati based in Ras Al Khaimah, volunteers in the emirate’s Al Mamourah area. Part of a 16-member team, Al Mheiri is responsible for delivering the packages to the motorists.

She said: “We get a lot of help from the police force and we work with them in teams. The motorists feel so happy to see us and receive the meals and are grateful for the effort we are taking. This makes what we do worth it.”

The volunteers don’t usually have time to make conversation with the motorists, but Al Mheiri said that they all try to be extremely courteous. In the emirate, 184 volunteers have registered this year, handing out packages at 12 different sites.

Mariam Ali Al Shaloubi, an Emirati student based in Khor Fakkan, is participating for the first time and says that volunteering is her passion.

She said: “People always say do something you love in your free time, this is what I love to do.”

At the Al Bukhari Mosque, which is also one of the 10 locations in Sharjah where Ramadan cannons have been placed to announce iftar time, Al Shaloubi’s team of volunteers gathers at 6.30pm every day. All of them are fasting, according to her, but this doesn’t slow any of them down.

She said: “We give up our own iftar for the sake of these motorists who are rushing to reach home before the sound of the adhan (call to prayer). There’s nothing hard or tiring for us. In fact, we love what we do and are proud to be serving the residents of the UAE. The UAE always supports such campaigns and drives us to be successful.”

She intends to continue volunteering every day for the rest of the month. In Khor Fakkan, a total of 238 volunteers have registered and visit two sites every day.

Shaikha Mohammad Al Bardan, an Emirati student based in Sharjah, has volunteered through many activities in the past and has been a part of Ramadan Aman for three years. She also takes photographs of the participants to be posted on social media channels, in order to raise awareness about the campaign among residents.

She said: “I love volunteering for this campaign because I can help people and it also allows me to practice my hobby, which is photography.”

Sharjah has the most number of sites, 21, that are visited by its 867 volunteers on a daily basis during Ramadan. These sites are also changed every 10 days, meaning volunteers then move to other high-traffic areas within the emirate.

Al Bardan said: “I like how all the volunteers are organised and help each other. The feeling of giving and doing charity work would make anyone feel better.”

This year, for the first time, the volunteers have been asked to register online, as a way to streamline the process and organise the number of volunteers in the different emirates. Anyone interested in participating can do so by registering online at ramadanaman.com.