Dubai: Over 120 volunteers who take time out of their busy schedules and routine commitments to serve the community received a rare honour at a first-of-its-kind ceremony in Dubai on Tuesday.
The atmosphere at the Oasis Beach Tower in Jumeirah Beach Residence was electric as hands clapped and heels clicked to foot-stomping music that accompanied videos of their work, with many of the volunteers turning into ‘voluncheers' when the NGO Volunteer in UAE announced some 40 token awards.
"It's a small gesture to celebrate the selfless service of these wonderful men and women whose efforts go largely unnoticed," said Lola Lopez, founder of the NGO.
"It's just a little thank you," said adventurer Adrian Hayes, who was the master of ceremonies.
Lopez said the winners were selected from a pool of 4,673 volunteers who put in a total of 41,357 hours of voluntary work in 572 events organised in Dubai and Abu Dhabi between November 2010 and November 2011. The events covered a wide range of projects to help the disadvantaged sections of society or just spruce up the environment.
Ashiq Shebeer Alluparambil, an HR executive from Dubai who put in 260 hours of voluntary work despite his demanding job, was chosen Volunteer of the Year. "I am just on a bus which is driven by Lola. And I don't think I want to get out — ever," said the unassuming Indian from Kerala.
In second place was M. D'Souza, who managed to give 244 hours of her time for others in just six months last year. "Unfortunately, I suffered a slipped disc in June and was grounded for the rest of the year," she said.
Pakistani Salman Zahid, who clocked in 151 hours of voluntary work, walked away with the award for reliability. "People think voluntary work is not paying. But they are so wrong because nothing can be more rewarding than being a volunteer," said the corporate banker.
Everyone in the hall was a winner in their own right.
One big family
"Isn't it fantastic that we've grown into such a large family from just two members?" said Neha Mistry, project manager for the Safe & Sound project.
Maria Paz Romanillos, a Filipina kids club attendant who accompanies special needs children on an outing every Sunday under the FunDay Sunday project, said, "It gives me great joy."
There is no dearth of scope for voluntary work. As Lynda Gaenssler from South Africa said, she assists with Aid in Motion, a drive to collect second-hand goods for labourers. "I am the area connection point at Umm Suqeim and Jumeirah," she said, adding she found her calling on Facebook.
Roshini Raimalwala, project manager of Karama Kanteen, another project of Volunteer in the UAE, said every Friday the canteen has been distributing groceries and toiletries to some 300-400 labourers since 2008.
There are also many who pitch in when required. Tarek Zeidan, a Lebanese interiors architect, is one of them. From Operation Ozone beach clean-ups and blood donation camps to ironing clothes at the Senses special needs centre, he's been doing it all. "I was a scout as a kid and have liked doing voluntary work ever since."
Similarly, Filipinas Mary Grace Perez, a secretary, and Maylin Asilo, a contracts assistant, said they put in three to five hours of work every week, be it Funday Sunday, Charity Bazaar, Operation Ozone or the Pink Book Sales.
Other projects of Volunteer in UAE like Braille for the Blind, Helping Hands, Care for Cancer and Pass a Glass have also received support from volunteers, said Lopez.