Culture of volunteering in UAE dates back to the 1700s

Global Volunteering Leadership Summit hosts several discussions on why volunteers matter for the post-Covid-19 world


Ashwani Kumar

Published: Sat 4 Dec 2021, 6:35 PM

The UAE has a great culture of volunteering that dates back to the 1700s and the same spirit exists today, global volunteer leaders said during an event held in Abu Dhabi.

The two-day Global Volunteering Leadership Summit hosted and organised by Emirates Foundation in association with the International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE) saw many fascinating discussions on why volunteers matter for the post-Covid-19 world.

Nichole Cirilo, executive director, IAVE, which is also marking its golden jubilee, pointed out how tribes in the 1700s worked together in Abu Dhabi deserts to find sources of water.

“Volunteers worked very hard even though they didn’t know that they were going to find water. They worked without any certainty. It is many miles underneath. It was very difficult work. Yet they kept going as a group, which is the essence of volunteering. That collective work created a community, which then allowed for the building of the nation. That spirit and culture still exists today,” she told Khaleej Times while referring to the Bedouin tribes.

The American leader noted the summit aims to promote, strengthen and celebrate volunteering. According to her, it is modelled on the concept of a majilis – a community that’s open, welcoming, enjoyable yet connecting diverse groups of volunteer leaders from across the world.

George Thomson, co-director, networks and convening, IAVE, Scotland, UK, said the moment he landed at the Abu Dhabi airport, he could witness volunteerism.

“It was wonderful. Their (Emirati volunteers) eyes were welcoming. They recognised me. I felt I was here. Those were eyes of human kindness. Those first exchanges were the potential of volunteerism.”

Abeer Al Hosani, director of volunteers, Expo 2020 Dubai, said there is great awareness about volunteering in the UAE.

“We got applications from 180,000 Emiratis and expats while we needed just 30,000. And things are great after 2 months of the Expo. Presence of volunteers has played a great addition to the event. We are ready for any event after hosting the Expo.”

Talking about how the UAE is making a change in the world, Abdulla Al Shehhi, chief of operations, Dubai Cares, recollected how they empowered women folks of an African tribe.

“We went to an African tribe where only men worked. So, we made a condition that for us to help them, we needed at least 50 per cent men and women. We promoted gender equality. Our women volunteers who worked equal to 10 men made an impression on the (tribal) women there. Next day, tribal women turned up to help. That was a true representation of the spirit of Emirati women and the UAE.”

Dr Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, chairman, Department of Community Development, Abu Dhabi, said that the summit is a precursor to the 26th IAVE World Volunteer Conference to be held in Abu Dhabi – the first city selected from the Middle East to host such a global gathering of volunteer leaders in 2022.

“The DCD has been continuously taking efforts to encourage volunteers and create an effective volunteering environment.”

Ahmed Al Shamsi, CEO, Emirates Foundation, added that the IAVE World Volunteer Conference will be a platform for the world to learn about volunteering initiatives taken by the UAE.

“Those outside the UAE think that we have not reached that level of volunteering. We have more than 30,000 volunteers on the ground during the pandemic. We have specialised volunteers like doctors and nurses who worked after duty hours. About 165 nationalities were part of the efforts during Covid-19. In, we have more than 200 nationalities and all of them are residents. is a hub for Expo 2020 Dubai.”

On the opening day of the summit, there was participation of representatives from volunteering leadership organisations from 50 countries. December 5, Sunday, is the International Volunteer Day.

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