I see my magnificent city, so bright and beautiful. As amazed as I am with other countries I’ve visited, in those last 20 minutes when a flight is landing home, I look at the Burj Khalifa, all the glimmering lights and feel a rush. My heart skips a beat; it’s not a magical Cirque Du Soleil set — it’s even better.
Welcome to the most beautiful city of all, my city. As I arrive at the Passport Control in the airport, I hold my passport with pride. I belong to the country with the softest desert sands, the country with the rockiest mountains, the bluest beaches and the tallest tower in the world. I belong to the country that unquestionably loves its leadership, a leadership that has implanted the kindest hearts in its people, and is always winning the race in aiding those in need all over the world. What more can I ask for?
For most of my life, I thought each and every Emirati was wealthy enough to own a mansion, a car and have servants to do every possible chore. I thought it was my God-given right to buy a minimum of three or four designer handbags a year and, later on, I would evolve into the Rolex and Cartier age, just like my mother and most other Emirati women.
Little did I know about neighbourhoods not so far away from my own where my people lived a much less fortunate life. I saw the elderly woman living on her own with a collapsing roof, and barely any furniture. She explained how our government was generous enough to provide its people with free healthcare, but she had to sell her furniture to pay for the cab ride to and from the hospital twice a week for her dialysis appointments.
And there were the Emirati children living with their non-Emirati widowed mother, occupying one bedroom in a house with male workers. The family consisted of girls in their pre-teens and a young teenage boy, and as we entered to assess their case, they swore they haven’t had meat for three months. Some of these families were granted Dh500 by a charity, and we all know that given the high cost of living, that barely covers anything.
I’ve seen many more cases in my two-week internship at the local charity that was established to help needy Emirati families, a charity that has been located at the end of my street for years.
I was filled with guilt. How could I be living this life when my own people needed me more than anyone? At the age of 17 I was shocked by a reality that has been in front of my sparkle-blinded eyes all along.
It all happened at the end of my senior year at high school and by then, as graduates-to-be, we had a vivid idea or plan about who we wanted to be. But that experience took me on a roller-coaster ride and I found my calling. After all these years I’m grateful to be working at The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, making my teenage dream an adulthood reality. Be the change, I kept telling myself, when the world seemed too dollar green.
I vowed to bring this issue up in conversations with new people I meet, and to interrupt mine and my friends’ shopping sprees to remind myself of something I experienced five years ago.
How could I blame outsiders for wrongly perceiving Emiratis to be wealthy people who have money-growing trees in their “Gardens of Eden”, and Rolls Royces parked on each side of the oil wells in their backyard when many of my own people didn’t know how unfortunate some of their neighbours are?
While the world’s poverty line is Dh4.6 per day, according to the Dubai Economic Council, the poverty line in the UAE is Dh80 a day. An understandable figure, given the cost of living and the inflation. While it’s undeniable that one of the reasons for poverty is the willingness to even go into debt to live an extravagant lifestyle, there are many cases where people need help with their basic living essentials.
The Beit Al Kheir Society has 4,868 families registered. Emiratis are people known for their pride, so how many more families out there are too ashamed to register? If an equivalent number of wealthy families or individuals took up one family wouldn’t it create a more harmonious society?
According to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Social Affairs nearly 35,000 Emiratis from different categories — the disabled, families of prisoners, the elderly, the orphans, the widowed, the divorced and many more — receive aid from the Ministry. In most cases that aid on its own is not sufficient and due to budget restraints more cuts have been made this year.
Different socio-economic standards are common in every society and every country, whether it’s an oil-rich country or a country stricken by famine. It’s up to the leadership and the individuals in society to stand up and take responsibility for those less fortunate. And by responsibility, I don’t just mean financial aid, but financial management and guidance.
For a family to receive aid, they should go through training on how to manage their finances and avoid debt. Psychological and educational guidance is vital as well. A daughter has to be brainwashed to be “selfless” enough to give up her shallow dream of owning a Chanel bag or a son to give up the thoughts of owning his dream car at the age of 18 to avoid putting their father in additional debt.
As much as I admire what my country does for the world, I would like to shed a little light on what’s happening in our own beloved UAE. And with a population of less than a million Emiratis, wouldn’t it be easy to solve this issue? Just one campaign by one of our biggest charities would give Emiratis better lives for the coming 10 years. Sounds very simple, doesn’t it? After all, only 7 per cent of Emiratis are poor.
One must not forget society’s important role. By placing less importance on appearances, mindsets will start to change and when each member of the fortunate layer considers himself responsible for the well-being of his people then we would live in a better UAE.
To all people of goodwill, when choosing a charity for your “Zakat” or your good deeds, think locally. And to all the people living lavish lifestyles inconsiderately, look down from the glorious Burj Khalifa.
Fatma Al Falasi is a young Emirati writer who reflects on social issues that relate to Emirati youth. You can follow her at www.twitter.com/Fatmalfalasi