Random Acts of Kindness

Random Acts of Kindness

What drives ordinary people to be extraordinarily charitable?



By Karen Ann Monsy

Published: Fri 27 Dec 2013, 3:45 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 9:58 AM

“It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” — Kahlil Gibran

There is a niggling scepticism that raises its head when there is talk of charity these days. It has become, many cynics believe, agenda-based. But in its original form, all it means is the voluntary giving of help to those in need.

In this season of giving and as the year draws to an end, leaving us with lots to ponder over, we home in on a few individuals who, tirelessly and selflessly, give their time and resources, for the love of a cause. Charity begins at home, they say, and these people tell us how they go about it.

“My dad made me see how we can give back”

SMALL ACTS, BIG DIVIDENDS: Rola Marwan Faour at the garage sale she’d organised together with friends for a children’s cancer hospital in Egypt

Egyptian Rola Marwan Faour, 33, grew up in the Rashid Hospital complex in Dubai. Her dad, Dr Marwan Faour, a neurosurgeon at the hospital for 18 years, passed away two years ago — but not before instilling in her a deep sense of compassion for the sick and needy. Weekends were spent studying at the hospital during those days — her dad would carry out his surgeries in the operating theatre while his teenage daughter did her homework outside his office. Rola speaks of how he would often go beyond his duty as a doctor to make his patients feel better — a trait she picked up from him.

WELL SAID

“Help others and give something back. I guarantee you will discover that while public service improves the lives and the world around you, its greatest reward is the enrichment and new meaning it will bring your own life” — Arnold Schwarzenegger

“As a young teenager, I used to visit my dad’s patients almost every weekend and often got them boxes of chocolates that Dad bought. He’d tell them I was there to check on them and got along a small gift. I’d then sit with them for a while. I still remember everyone’s face so clearly… Like the guy who’d lost both his eyes in a horrific car accident. That case really affected me and I visited him quite a few times, just to check on him. There was the worker who fell and injured his spine while on his honeymoon; I remember chatting with him and trying to calm his crying wife. Other times, I sat with people who were in a coma to pray for them.”

Rola left the hospital complex after turning 18, but says her mind is always “at the hospital”. She has spearheaded two drives, first on a personal level and then introducing them, on a bigger scale, at work. “The first was a garage sale at a friend’s place to raise funds for a children’s cancer hospital in Egypt. The second was when I asked friends to collect their unused, unexpired medicines so we could hand them over to the Rashid Hospital pharmacy who would distribute them for free to those who couldn’t afford them otherwise.”

A graphic designer at THE One, Rola introduced both ideas at her office. The first — another garage sale held last year — raised Dh7,000 in two hours; the proceeds went to the hearing impaired centre Kalimati. The second campaign, ‘Got Drugs?’, held this year, saw customers stopping by their stores to drop off medicines, crutches and braces; eight cartons were filled with the medication.

“By taking me to work to show me how people suffer, my dad made me see how we can give back to the community — whether through medicine, a box of chocolates or by visiting patients. I didn’t become a doctor but I’m trying to give back in my own way,” Rola says, adding, “I hope Baba is proud of me.”

“Giving gives me such a great feeling”

WHAT GOES AROUND...: Farnoush Sheikhani believes whatever one does will come back to them, whether good or bad

A company manager in Dubai, Farnoush Sheikhani’s work takes her across various industrial areas in the emirates. It’s when she knows she’ll be taking such routes that she often packs groceries or clothes to hand over to blue-collar workers she passes on the way. “It’s just an individual contribution,” says the 42-year-old. “Other times, I visit labour camps with food packs for the workers… They’re always surprised to see me, a woman, but when they find out that I’m there to give them something, they rush, line up or sometimes swarm around me to collect their share. That’s when I wish I had more to give away.”

FOSTER HOME, ANYONE?

Look up local animal welfare associations for more information on how to foster a pet. There are scores of dogs and cats in need for a loving home in the UAE, and this could be your chance to do your bit for the community

The soft-spoken Iranian, who has been doing this for the last eight years, is dismissive of personal costs incurred. “I never count these things,” she says, “but it’s not much. A hundred bananas, for example, don’t cost me more than Dh60 but it covers a lot of labourers… I don’t want them to be grateful to me, but there is something in their eyes that always warms my heart. Giving gives me such a great feeling.”

Farnoush believes there is much more that we can do for each other. “We have become indifferent because of our day-to-day concerns. We don’t see things around us as much as we should… Look at it this way: whatever you do, whether good or bad, will come back to you. If people believe that, I’m sure they will care far more. We need more examples that show people how a small thing can make a big difference.”

Giving, as a trait, has to come from within. “To some extent, I think everybody can be caring,” she notes. “Perhaps it is something you can teach your kids. But if it’s inside you, you will have the eye for it. Wherever you go, you’ll find opportunities to help because you will be looking for them.”

“People can help themselves; animals can’t”

When Amirah William moved from her native New Zealand to the UAE five years ago, adopting an animal was the last thing on her mind — she was still getting over the death of her beloved pet dog. But then she came across ads for dogs that needed urgent fostering and took up one… then another… It went on from there — the 46-year-old has lost count of how many dogs she’s fostered in the last few years (“probably about 50”) but today looks after seven dogs at home: four of her own, and three foster dogs.

COMMUNITY DRIVE: Paula Jane and Graham Cox will be travelling next month to meet Lakhi’s family in Punjab

The vice principal of a school in Dubai, she lives in Umm Al Quwain now, where she says the problem [of dogs in need of care] is rampant. “I’m a familiar sight here now,” she laughs. “The locals call me the ‘dog lady’. I carry food and water in my car all the time so if I see any hungry strays, I stop and feed them.” A lot of people express sympathy, but not many actually do anything to help, Amirah notes, who often uses personal resources to support her passion. She’s had to shell out Dh50,000 in the last two years alone — for food, vet bills, feeding the strays… Donations come in occasionally but their inconsistent flow means Amirah at times takes care of the dogs’ needs from her own pocket. Some in her own pack have special needs too (“Joey’s got epilepsy, Max has an enlarged heart, Goliath has deformed hind legs…”) and the medications cost.

KEEP TRACK

For information on all the events happening for a cause across the country that you may be able to contribute to, just log on to Facebook and search for the ‘Events for a Good Cause — UAE’ page

Yet it’s the life she chooses for herself, declining the assistance of a maid or other helper. “People tell me I should be helping people, not animals. But people can help themselves,” she contends. “Animals can’t.” Amirah’s policy is just to do whatever she can — as much as she can. Part of that involves educating the community about animal welfare. “People were always curious to see me, in my abaya and hijab, walking my dogs or shifting the bodies of those that had been run over off the streets. I think there’s more acceptance now, especially among the older kids I speak to,” says the animal lover, who once made a bunch of joyriding youngsters pull over and lectured them severely about hanging their cat out the window. There’s a lot more we can do, she feels. “Don’t just like a Facebook post or turn a blind eye,” she urges. “Do something!”

“When you do things for the right reasons, it can hardly go wrong”

It started as a tragedy — when a construction worker fell to his death trying to escape a fire that broke out at a skyscraper in Jumeirah Village Triangle (JVT) last month — but witnesses Paula Jane Cox, 46, and her husband Graham, 52, were so distressed by the event that they were determined to do something. “Practically, the only thing we could think of was to help his family. Graham rang up the construction company daily for two weeks, trying to find information about the worker. We finally learnt his name was Lakhi Khan and that he’d left behind a wife, two small kids and parents back in the Punjab in India — and we started collecting money to help them.”

The British couple used a website to raise funds and was “overwhelmed” by the response. “We’ve raised over US$6,000 at the moment — most donations came in from the JVT community and also from some large companies in Dubai. A neighbouring resident who speaks Punjabi helped us ring up the family to see if they were okay. But that first phone call was really difficult because his widow still hadn’t been told, three weeks after the incident.”

Paula recalls how Lakhi’s father’s biggest worry was getting his son’s body safely home. “We rang the company back, met the HR team and, the next day, Lakhi’s body was on the plane home, which felt like a massive achievement for us.”

Paula explains that the money raised will go to an educational trust fund for Lakhi’s children and the couple will be travelling to Lakhi’s village in Punjab next month, together with a few Indian friends to speak to the family about the best way to proceed. “I’m just overwhelmed at people’s generosity here… A corporate (who wishes to remain anonymous) even donated three flight tickets for us to get there and back. We’ll be looking to take some toys and clothes for all the kids in the village and hopefully stay in contact with Lakhi’s children for as long as they want to be in touch with us…”

The experience has restored Paula and Graham’s faith in humanity. “I understand why people may be cautious to help sometimes but when you do things for the right reasons, it can hardly go wrong.”

“We make sure it comes from the heart”

SILENT WORKER: Neeta Advani believes in simple acts of charity — ones that focus on the need of the cause and not the givers

As she hands out food packets to labour camp residents in Dubai, workers often ask Indian expat Neeta Advani why she does it. “Just to make you happy,” is her standard refrain. And that’s all there is to it, she explains. The 46-year-old has lived in Dubai all her life but it was only when she moved from Bur Dubai to Arabian Ranches a few years ago that she began to notice the city’s blue-collar workers, arriving for work with a single pack of food. “That’s how it started,” she recalls. “My friends used to tell me not to bother but it bothered me very much that that was all they had.”

There were labour camps across the city and she began to stop by them, sometimes with an assortment of giveaways (toiletries, napkins, fruits, drinks) — and sometimes with lunch for 300. “I usually get some women or kids to join me and we serve the food without giving out our names or numbers or going back to the same camp twice. We do things silently because that’s how we make sure it comes from the heart.” And that’s how she’d like it to stay.

Neeta also helps coordinate drives for various other causes and believes initiatives can begin at home. “For example, when the season changes and you feel hot, just remember someone down the road feels the same and might appreciate a cool drink. Even if you buy a few Lassis and offer it to them, it will go a long way.” It’s a mindset that she feels should be inculcated especially in children so that they learn to value what they have. “Unfortunately, a lot of people think that poverty cannot touch them. They don’t realise that poverty can touch anyone any day.”

She has supporters and detractors alike — the latter often urging her to donate to charities in India instead. “Why should I when I can make someone next to me happy? Sometimes, it’s just a Dh10-20 blanket but their happiness is priceless. You don’t have to reach your own country to do these things. There is so much opportunity here — just get on to it.”

“I need nothing in return”

Mumbai-born Jawahar Mehta is quite a known face in the Gujarati circle in Dubai, thanks to his sense of community service. The 46-year-old mainly provides assistance in cremation and repatriation services and promises he’s there for anyone who needs him — even if the call comes through at midnight — and his services come absolutely free of charge.

ON CALL: Jawahar Mehta during a volunteer initiative to paint a special needs school in Dubai

“These services used to be overlooked by Bharat Bhai Shah, a businessman and senior member of the community, but he passed on this duty to me a few years ago, and I usually spend most of my day for matters related to charity.” What about his business? “My work happens over the phone or email. But I don’t mind dropping work to help someone out, if the need is urgent. It’s not something that was taught to me — just the way my heart is.”

Jawahar says people have misused his services in the past but he’s also helped those who were in genuine distress — and for the latter, there is nothing that can convey their thanks to the stranger who helped them, out of the blue, without obligations, during a time of real need. He often helps people through administrative procedures — from start to finish — even if the process takes two whole days of running from pillar to post to complete.

The Indian expat has a strict policy of not working with organisations that aren’t transparent or where there is ‘politics’ involved. “My motto is to serve people. I need nothing in return. It’s not something everyone can do,” he feels. “God’s given me a gift and I use it to serve the community, that’s all. There’s nothing like seeing the happiness on the faces of people you’ve helped.”

karen@khaleejtimes.com


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