A recent mass wedding in Abu Dhabi created a stir for its lavishness and the strong interest shown by the organisers. No expense was spared to make the group wedding a glittering event and ensure the couples experienced the best moments of their life.

What made it stand out was that the couples involved in the marriage all belonged to a single institution, Dar Zayed for Comprehensive Welfare.

Dar Zayed for Comprehensive Welfare
This centre, set up nearly 15 years ago to provide care for orphans, is unique in many ways. Located in Al Khazna area in Al Ain , it is not just a home providing temporary care to children without parents. The orphans, some of whom are admitted as young as two days old, are assured of lifelong care and shelter and are guided towards a self-reliant life by helping them find jobs when they grow up.

"The commitment is for life here. They might grow up and marry or take up a good job either in the army or a private company, but they are always assured of Dar Zayed's support all through their lives," said Ali Al Ameri, director of the centre.

"The doors of the orphanage will always remain open to them and to those who need care and support in the absence of parental care."

Dar Zayed was established in 1988 by President His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan to be a home for children who were orphaned at an early age. In 2000, Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan was given the charge of running the home and providing proper care and protection to the children.

Currently, the centre houses 326 boys and girls who are provided with a decent life and all the facilities they need. Dar Zayed spreads out over a large area encompassing around 20 large houses, a football court, a volley ball court, a computer lab, cafeterias and a massive library.

Explaining how children are admitted into Dar Zayed, Mubarak Al Ameri, Head of the Public Relations Department said: "A list of names of orphaned girls and boys is given to us by the offices of the Rulers of the UAE. They undergo medical tests and other procedures before being admitted into the orphanage."


Those who are admitted to the centre are provided with UAE citizenship and are given new names by which they will be known for the rest of their lives. "From that day forth, the orphanage is their home, and the residents of the Dar Zayed are their family."

"If you ask any child at the orphanage who their parents are, their answer is always: 'Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mub-arak, Wife of President His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and Chairperson of the UAE General Women's Union, is my mother and Sheikh Zayed is my father.'

Laila Ahmed, aged seven, said she will always remember being at Dar Zayed. When asked if she remembers or even knows who her parents were, Laila simply responds by showing a portrait of Sheikh Zayed whom she calls her father. "I do not have a picture of mum," the girl whispered about the President's wife.

Officials at the orphanage speak of Dar Zayed as one big house with one big family consisting of a mother, a father, brothers and sisters living in it. The centre's main task is to compensate for the loss of the children's family by giving them surrogate parents.

Ahmed Al Rumaithy, Head of the centre said: "Every group of four children shares a mother, an aunt, a psychologist and a social worker."

The presumed mother has to take care of her children for five days a week and then when she goes off on a two-day break, another woman acting as an aunt takes over.

He said: "Their mother plays the role of any other normal mother with children. The psychologist and social worker only intervene if there is a problem – like in the case of sibling rivalries or fights. They study the problem, why it happened and how to prevent it. They then inform the child's mother about the problem and find solutions."

When a boy is nine-years-old, he is segregated and moved to the male villa in line with Islamic traditions which bans mixing of males and females.

Al Rumaithy said: "At the male villa, the child is looked after by a presumed father and a supervisor. He can still visit his mother and sisters any time and sit with them for a while." Although Dar Zayed has continuously taken measures to create a stable family environment for the orphans, the institution is also trying to integrate them into the mainstream society when they are ready to leave.

The children are sent to schools and universities located in Al Khazna and surrounding areas. They are given private tuition if they are not doing well at school. Mubarak Al Ameri said top students are sent abroad to pursue higher studies and all their study and living expenses are covered by the centre. "Currently we have six students who are doing their masters degrees abroad."

He said jobs have been secured for each of the graduates at Dar Zayed in both the private and public sector. Sheikh Zayed has allocated a farm and a house for all the children to live in when they grow up and get married. A special bank account has also been opened for them as soon as they are admitted into Dar Zayed and a fixed sum is deposited there every month.

"We have tried to cover for their needs in every possible way. I have even heard people wishing they were as lucky as them to receive the care that Dar Zayed gives to its children."

Job placements

More than 18 boys of the centre have already been recruited to the army or other defence establishments and an apartment has been allocated for each of them in Abu Dhabi.

Ameri said Dar Zayed also encourages the children to take up sports and encourages the talented ones to pursue it as a career when they grow up.

He said that for the first time the children will travel abroad during the summer holiday this year. "This time the children will visit Arab countries like Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia but we hope we will get the opportunity to take them on a trip to Europe or the United States."

Highlighting Dar Zayed's 2003 plan, he said new facilities will be added to the centre while adult residents will get the chance to have their own car.

"Each year we develop a plan to satisfy the residents and provide a comfortable life to them.

"By providing them with such intense care we are doing our bit to remove the stigma attached to the word 'orphan'. We don't want them to be looked upon with pity by people. The recent wedding held for four couples of Dar Zayed is a precursor to many more such weddings."