Ferjan Dubai team with Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (centre), Crown Prince of Dubai, Chairman of The Executive Council of Dubai, and Chairman of Dubai’s Higher Committee for Development and Citizens Affairs, in December 2022 Image Credit: Twitter/@DXBMediaOffice

Dubai: Alya Alshamlan, a mother of three, lives in Al Barsha South. In April 2021, she noticed a lost cat in the neighbourhood and was trying to look for the owner.

“But there was no effective and well-known means of public communication in the neighborhood, so I came up with the idea of creating an Instagram account under the name of Albarsha South and use it not only to get to know the owners of such lost pets, but also to create a virtual communication platform to connect neighbours, share information about anything new, whether it’s an activity or a restaurant and cafe. I also thought that this account could be used to identify and support small home businesses within the neighborhood, as well as highlight talented and distinguished members of the community. In short, the community in this neighborhood could get talking through the platform,” recalled Alya.

Alya Alshamlan

Thus began Ferjan Dubai, a community initiative that seeks to promote engagement, communication and bonding among families in a Dubai neighbourhood. Today, the initiative covers 10 active Instagram accounts with a following of over 92,000 residents across 20 different neighbourhoods, as Alya, founder and CEO of the initiative, told Gulf News in an exclusive interview.

The word ‘Ferjan’ in Arabic is the plural form of the word ‘Freej’, which means neighbourhood.

In the past, neighbours cared for each other and children of the same neighbourhood would be raised together as one big family. Today, Ferjan Dubai aims to bring this feeling back to life through a virtual communication platform.

Alya Alshamlan, founder and CEO of Freej Dubai, with Sheikh Hamdan
Alya (right) with Sheikh Hamdan Image Credit: Supplied

Alya said, “Ferjan Dubai started with the story about the lost cat in my neighbourhood. When I saw the reactions around me towards the Al Barsha South account, and how people benefited from the account, I decided to create dedicated accounts for each and every neighbourhood of Dubai, and indeed Instagram accounts were created under the names of these Dubai neighbourhoods. The accounts are managed by residents of the same areas.”

She said the initiative currently targets Emiratis in addition to Arab residents. “We are planning to start translating our Ferjan Dubai account content into English so that it reaches non-Arabic speakers living in the UAE as well,” added Alya.

Volunteers step in

As more Ferjan Dubai accounts were created and the number of followers in each account increased, Alya felt the need for more people to manage the accounts and generate suitable content. “So we announced that we needed volunteers to help and we got a very good response. The volunteers started communicating with each other and interacting with the community to explore everything new, including owners of small home businesses, restaurants, cafes and shops. People from the neighbourhoods with Ferjan accounts started cooperating with each other for a number of tasks, starting from tracing the lost cat’s owner, all the way to other matters such as reporting a defect in a sewage network. In turn, we contact the concerned departments to inform them about problems and the departments resolve them.”

Alya said Ferjan Dubai currently has 31 volunteers, including 18 people who manage Instagram accounts in addition to the administrative team that handles content creation, advertising, sponsorships and marketing. They also plan and implement new initiatives or activities. We also have approximately 400 volunteers working in WhatsApp groups dedicated to different neighbourhoods.”

Community gatherings, walks

Alya said, “We started organising Ferjan gatherings with specific branding and ideas. These gatherings are sponsored by people from the neighbourhood like café owners. Our main goal is to strengthen communication and bonding between community members. So far, we have held 26 community gatherings with around 2,500 participants.”

She said she is also keen on organising community walks (Ferjan Walks) with around 450 registered members in WhatsApp groups. This will encourage group members to exercise at specific times with the community.

She also plans to hold a Ferjan Festival to enable entrepreneurs to introduce their businesses to the community, while getting to know one another.

Other initiatives include a sports tournament (paddle tournament) under the sponsorship of Paddle Line in collaboration with the Al Ameen Police Service “We are planning to do four more tournaments during Ramadan including paddle and football tournaments.”

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What the community says

Zainab Al Attar from Nad Al Hammar, who is a volunteer, said she has greatly benefited from Ferjan Dubai.

“Participating in Ferjan Dubai as an account manager of Freej Nadalhammar gave me the opportunity to meet new people around my neighbourhood and use my photography skills in creating new content to share with our loving community.”

Basma Al Habsi, another resident, said, “I manage the Ferjan Dubai main account on social media and mobilise participation of volunteers and residents of the neighbourhoods for various events. I also work with other colleagues in preparing media content for Ferjan Dubai accounts.”

Basma Al Habsi

She said she deeply cherishes her time with the community and the volunteers who provide their services free of cost for the sake of the community. “We have shared some great experiences together which has helped develop my personality, skills and way of thinking.”

As she sees it, a happy community is what makes Dubai the best place to be in.

Ferjan Dubai Instagram accounts for neighbourhoods
-Ferjan Dubai (main account)
-Freej Nad Alhammar (covers Nad Alhammar and Alrashidiya)
-Freej Nad Alsheba
-Freej alwarqa (covers Alwarqa and Mirdif)
-Freej Jumeirah
-Freej Alkhawaneej (covers Alkhawaneej, Almezhir, Almuhaisnah and Oud Almutainah)
-Freej Alaweer (covers Alawaeer, Marmoom, Lebab and Margham)
-Freej albarsha (covers Albarsha and Albarsha South)
-Freej Alquoz
-Freej Hatta