Saturday, December 5th, was International Volunteers Day. And having offered my services a few times to an organization called Volunteer in Dubai, and also curious to meet people working in social development, I headed to The Shelter in Al Quoz, where a small event was being organized.
The studio was already packed with about 50-60 people when I entered. There were presentations by a few people about the work they were doing on their own or in partnership with other NGOs. And it was both humbling and inspiring.
There were several interesting things that I noticed at the event. One was that most of those involved in social work weren’t the hoary sorts who’d taken up social work in their twilight years or bored housewives with time on their hands. The four presenters were all in their mid-20s. Some worked with the underprivileged along side their regular nine-to-fives, while some of them had made it their life work.
26-year-old Masarat Daud shared how she quit a lucrative government job in 2008 to start a programme to educate and empower women and children in her village in Rajasthan. Through her initiative called the ‘8-Day Academy’, she has taught basic computer skills and public speaking to children and teachers, while also demolishing age-old chauvinistic structures in the process. She’s also planning the first rural TEDx Shekavati with an inspiring theme – IDEA REVOLUTION.
Mobisher Rabbani shared his guiding philosophy, ‘We can begin small but why should we think small’. And the long list of The Rabbani Foundation’s initiatives from community development to women’s empowerment to disaster relief, proved that he took his philosophy quite seriously.
At a time when Afghanistan seems to be one of the most dangerous places on earth, journalist and RJ, Natalie Carney headed to Afghanistan not once, but twice, staying there for a month and documenting the stories of the war orphans. One of the most touching moments in her documentary was a parent saying, “We sent our daughter to an orphanage so that she could get an education.”
Another interesting detail was that almost none of the presenters handed around leaflets or any other ‘literature’. I didn’t see too many visiting cards being exchanged either. All of them directed the audience to ‘look them up online’. Either on Twitter or You Tube or Facebook or through their blogs and websites. As Mobiasher mentioned to me, “I mostly operate through Facebook.”
And finally, what was most heartening to note was the presence of confident, articulate Emirati women making a difference. Two young Emirati woman along with their non-Emirati friends, shared their vision that had helped start the group ‘Promise of a Generation’ to ‘promote respectful intercultural interaction to improve our own understanding of the world and our responsibilities in it’. Even the event organizer, Nabila Usman, seemed far more advanced than her 20-something years , given her philanthropic vision and desire to make a difference in society.
As I drove back home, inspired and uplifted, I couldn’t help remembering a quote by Mahatma Gandhi – ‘Find purpose, the means will follow’.