Cheerful workers display their bottles of water provided by ‘The Sameness Project’. Image Credit: Courtesy: The Sameness Project

Dubai: An expat group is doling out thousands of bottled water to quench the thirst of Asian workers toiling under the sun in Dubai as part of an outreach programme carried out by about 100 “Water for Workers” volunteers.

The initiative is a brainchild of Lina Nahhas, founder of “The Sameness Project”, who said they want to make a difference “one bottle, one worker at a time.”

“It’s not just about giving momentary refreshment, but more about interacting with a fellow human being. We hang around, exchange our life stories,” said Nahhas, a 41-year-old Canadian-Palestinian.

Nahhas said she was inspired to “do something really basic” for Dubai workers following a life-changing experience on a trip to Palestine in 2008. “I went there on a personal visit for the first time to reconnect with my roots after I had a baby. That trip had created a deep desire within to take meaningful action whenever possible, based on the idea of humanity-seeing-humanity,” she said.

Nahhas has lived in Dubai for 20 years and was former CEO of Siraj marketing company. She sold her stake in the firm to run “The Sameness Project” full-time in 2011, having registered it as an event management firm helping private companies carry out social responsibility initiatives.

Since then, “Water for Workers” volunteers had given literally tens of thousands of litres of drinking water to Dubai’s army of Asian workers. On the first Saturday of each month, they hire a refrigerated truck that holds all of the water to ensure it stays cool. Almost all of the volunteers who participate arrive in their own cars taking around 100 bottles each with them. In the last two months alone, volunteers gave away 8,400 bottles. Up to 100 volunteers turned up at the July 6 outreach event. The team do not merely target specific camps, but cater to any workers in sight who may be sweeping up the streets, attendants at petrol stations as well as construction workers.

“PepsiCo are quite generous and give us 5,000 bottles of Aquafina water each month to use for the “Water for Workers” drive. Beyond that, we are totally self-funded at the moment,” said Nahhas, adding they are looking for more corporate sponsors to expand the project.

Nahhas gets extra hands from three twenty-something expatriates — Fiona Hepher, a 23-year-old Canadian, and Kiwi husband-and-wife Jonny and Aimee-Rose Kennaugh, both 27. The Kennaughs joined “The Sameness Project” in 2011 while Fiona joined early this year, and has already become project manager. All four of them work for the event management company full-time.

“We’re not really a charity, but an event management company. In reality, we don’t make money from the quenching the workers’ thirst, but we get a different kind of reward.”

How does a once-a-month bottled water distribution make a difference in the workers’ lives?

“This water outreach is not just about giving as many bottles of water to as many people as we can,” said Fiona. “It’s about using water to break the ice between two human beings — engaging people and sharing a moment of interaction you won’t normally have with this group.”

Their once-a-month water dole-outs go beyond refreshments. Personalised stickers on the bottles and cotton handkerchiefs are also given out with a ‘thank you’ note in six languages — English, Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali and Tagalog. Although there may be a language barrier, this has not stopped them. Seeing the word ‘thank you’ written in six different languages has immediately been warmly recognised by each worker. This allows each and every one of the workers to understand the volunteers’ purpose. “Most of the time the workers can carry out a short conversation, but if not, the hanky’s save the day,” said Fiona.

The group’s projects include “We’ve Got Your Back”, which encourages the legion of Dubai taxi drivers to exercise. The group gives cabbies small laminated cards detailing ways to stretch to keep their joints and muscles relaxed and avoid the risk of deep vein thrombosis due to sitting for a long time.

“It’s not just about sheer numbers. It’s about who we meet, their reaction, their life stories,” said Jonny.



‘Water for Workers’ event will be on Saturday, 10am, Safa Park, September 7.

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