Across the world, December 5 is celebrated as International Volunteer Day (IVD).
So to find out just how generous the UAE really is, Khaleej Times came face to face with three selfless residents giving their time to help others, including one man who is more than a century old!
On Monday, all three were among a number of UAE residents honoured as ‘outstanding volunteers’ by the Community Development Authority (CDA) and Dubai Chamber as part of IVD.
So, let’s hear their stories.
The 105-year-old volunteer
At 105-years-old, Saif Ali Mansoori has lived a life many of us have only read about.
The former pearl diver – who started plunging below the water’s surface at the age of seven – has battled dangerous seas and has even come face to face with a shark.
But four years ago, he decided to take on a new challenge.
At the age of 101, Mansoori became a volunteer for the Community Development Authority (CDA).
“I wanted to help my government, that is why I choose to volunteer my time. I want to give back to my country,” he told Khaleej Times.
After retiring from diving in the 1970s, Mansoori began guiding young pearl divers on how to dive. And that mentality to give back stuck with him for years, he said.
The Emirati pensioner is showing no signs of slowing down and as part of his volunteering stint he regularly visits schools to teach students about the history, culture and heritage of the UAE.
“I have performed a dangerous job and encountered many scary things in the waters, but to give back to my people is the best rush I get,” he said.
The unforgotten, young hero
Emirati Mohammed Ahli, just 25 years old, passed away in a car accident earlier this year. On Monday, his father Abdul Rahman Ahli accepted his honour on his behalf.
“My son Mohammed was proud to be a volunteer and today, I am even more proud to be accepting this award on his behalf,” he told Khaleej Times.
Unlike most teenage boys, Mohammed was just 16 when he made it his mission to give up his spare time to help others.
“Wherever he was needed, he would help out. Whether it was helping feed the poor, or picking up waste on the streets, nothing was too much for my son,” Abdul said.
Although Mohammed was taken from the world far too soon, his father said he left a mark that will live on forever in people’s hearts
“If he was here today he would say, ‘be proud of what you do, and follow in my footsteps by giving your time to give back to others’.
The mother of all volunteers
Khadija Mohammed Ali, all of 60 years, has been an active volunteer for 20 years, but she joined the CDA’s Dubai Volunteer Programme in 2012.
Over the years, she has dedicated thousands of hours to helping others, and she has even helped build a school in Ethiopia.
“I have been there three times now and when I see people in need, I want to give them my heart, but that’s not physically possible, so I give them my time.”
From teaching young orphan girls how to stitch and cook, to sponsoring life-saving surgery for a young boy paralysed by a bullet wound in Syria, Ali said time may be free but what it can do for others is priceless.
“I urge all young people to serve their home countries by volunteering their time.”
Despite hitting retiring age, Ali said their will be no end to the time she dedicates to volunteering, and even today she continues to stitch prayer dresses for women – the proceeds of which she donates to charity.
Volunteering in the UAE
Volunteering hours in Dubai have increased dramatically since the inception of the CDA’s Dubai Volunteering Programme (DVP) in 2012, so much so that figures more than doubled in 2016 compared to the whole of 2015.
From just 24,000 volunteering hours clocked from January to December last year, this year has marked a staggering 60,081 worth of hours so far.
DVP has also witnessed a huge expansion this year with financial savings provided by its 5,000 volunteers reaching Dh4.7 million
CDA awarded the most outstanding volunteers in DVP, including Aisha Al Hamadi who achieved 472 volunteering hours in less than a year
> 6 elderly volunteers awarded
> 13 volunteers received the ‘most active volunteers’ award
> 5,000 volunteers registered with DVP
> 105 companies registered with DVP
> CABINET, Expo 2020, and Dubai Culture all received awards for ‘most prominent entities’ registered with DVP