Inside Dubai's volunteer hall: Thousands turn up to prepare care packages for earthquake victims in Turkey, Syria

The Emirates Red Crescent's 'Bridges of Giving' campaign will be running for two weeks, giving more residents a chance to offer help


SM Ayaz Zakir

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Photos by Neeraj Murali
Photos by Neeraj Murali

Published: Sat 11 Feb 2023, 6:38 PM

Last updated: Sat 11 Feb 2023, 10:04 PM

Instead of sleeping in on a chilly weekend morning — hundreds of residents opted to wake up extra early to lend a hand to the UAE's massive relief drive for the victims of the earthquake tragedy in Turkey and Syria.

Some turned up at Expo City Dubai as early as 6am, three hours ahead of the official start of the Bridge of Giving campaign led by the Emirates Red Crescent (ERC) and a number of other humanitarian organisations in the UAE.

The crowd filed into the South Hall Exhibition area, taking their place on the sides of long tables where piles of canned goods, sugar, cooking oil, and other basic necessities are spread out — ready to be packed into boxes.

Lebanese expat Afra Salem came with her three children. “The moment I learnt about the campaign from my friend, I volunteered with my two sons and a daughter. Soon after the Fajr prayer, I made my way to begin my weekend on a positive note,” said the Sharjah resident.

“My kids were very excited as they participated in drawing postcards of hope for victims,” said Salem.

'Bridges of Giving' was a campaign born out of the compassion of the UAE people, said Abdulla Ahmed Al Shehhi, chief operating officer of Dubai Cares, one of the participating organisations.

"It all started with the community members asking entities how they can help earthquake victims," Al Shehhi said. “They wanted to lend their time to this cause, so we decided to launch this community engagement in partnership with the Emirates Red Crescent and Sharjah Charity."

The number of volunteers who came to Expo City Dubai in the morning was overwhelming, he said.

"Many complained that they could not register as the slots were full. So, we added a few slots to accommodate the volunteers."

How relief boxes were packed

At the Dubai centre of the 'Bridges of Giving' campaign, eight packaging stations were set up. Five were designated for food; two for hygiene items; and one for winter items.

“We packaged as many as 1,000 emergency response kits, which were facilitated by hundreds of volunteers compromising of different teams," Al Shehhi said.

Every kit contains items like sugar, salt, cooking oil, and canned goods. There were also boxes of soap and toothbrushes, as well as jackets and blankets.

These items, he explained, were the things that the earthquake survivors urgently need, based on the evaluation conducted by teams on the ground.

'Note of hope'

Once a box is filled, young volunteers add a heartwarming touch: A note of hope.

“We wanted to engage the kids, too, so we thought about an activity and invited the young ones to write a positive and uplifting message — or draw a message of hope on the postcards for the victims,” said Al Shehhi.

The postcards created by the youngsters are placed on top of all the items before the box is sealed. A quality control team then checks every kit to make sure it's good to go.

These relief boxes are transported to the Emirates Red Crescent warehouse and prepared for shipment.

In-kind donations pour in

Beyond devoting their time to the cause, hundreds of residents brought tonnes of donations — from food items to toys, baby products, blankets, and jackets.

“[Loaded onto two trucks] these kits will be transported to Syria and Turkiye as soon as possible,” said Rashed Ali Alyammahi, head of the fundraising department of ERC.

A two-week campaign

The Bridges of Giving campaign will be running for two weeks, giving more residents a chance to offer help. Sixteen collection points for in-kind donations were set up across the UAE.

“We will be receiving in-kind donations for the next two weeks. People can offer monetary donations or relief materials at the Red Crescent Society offices across the country,” Al Shehh said.

“For those unable to join us today, the window is open for two weeks. Whoever would like to provide, wherever you reside, we will have a station in every emirate in the country,” he added.


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