Dubai: Many people say they would like to make a difference in the world. Saher Shaikh puts her money where her mouth is.
Shaikh is the founder of the AdoptaCamp programme, which works to improve the lives of UAE labourers. She has teamed up with the Biryany Kabab House in Sharjah's Sajaa Industrial Area to provide free iftar meals for a 100 workers a night for the whole of Ramadan.
AdoptaCamp driven by Saher Shaikh's desire to improve the lives of the men who have been building the country that she now calls home. She is currently supporting 35 camps and over 9,000 men in Dubai, Sharjah and Fujairah.
"It started about four and a half years ago", she says. "I lived in Marina Walk and was doing my shopping at Spinneys. There was a labourer behind me counting his fils to buy a tiny bread roll and milk, so I paid for him."
Shaikh says that she would see a group of them, huddled around the ATM machine on weekends, struggling as they couldn't read the words on the screen. She started helping them to use the ATM.
"They got to know me and would tell me about the conditions in their accommodation. They invited me to visit and see for myself. I went there with hygiene kits for them and have never looked back."
She divides the accommodations into two categories: functioning and abandoned.
In the functioning accommodations, where the facilities are good and the men are being paid by their employers, the group provides hygiene, English and IELTS classes.
"I want to expand their horizons and their prospects while they're here. I don't want to give them fish, but teach them how to fish. The best part is that I know that they go home and bring what they've learned to their communities. Knowledge is the best gift you can give."
In the abandoned accommodations, where the sponsors have left, the need is greater. "We are looking after six abandoned accommodations at the moment. Their needs are much different. We provide food and clean water, clothes, and money to send home".
Shaikh, a Pakistani national, says that she has no political agenda. She is simply trying to help, and stresses that the government has been supportive in helping to send home men who have been abandoned by their sponsors.
The group has three or four regular volunteers. She puts together care packages for the accommodations every few months with the help of up to 400 volunteers. "We get so many nationalities coming to help out, and it's wonderful to see Emiratis volunteering side-by-side with Filipinos and Britons."
AdoptaCamp has stepped up its activities throughout Ramadan, by introducing iftar meals. Shaikh spoke to Anwar Ahmad Khan, owner of the Biryany Kabab House, convincing him to offer reduced rate iftars for the men.
"They are poor people and they want our help", Khan said. "We are giving half the rate for them."
AdoptaCamp is paying the rest, having found sponsorship to cover the balance each night.
The workers think highly of Saher Shaikh. Wakas Riaz, 23 is a labourer from Pakistan and is one of the few at the meal who speaks English. "We are coming every other night to the iftar," he says. There is no water or electricity where he lives with 35 other men. "What food is left over they give us to take home for the next day. Madam Saher is a good lady", he says.
To keep up to date with AdoptaCamp's activities you can visit their facebook page or send them an email at: email@example.com. Volunteers are always welcome and the group accepts donations of food and water to distribute to accomodations in need.
Do you volunteer? Have you engaged in a similar act of charity? Are you more charitable during Ramadan?