Adopt a Camp (AAC) Foundation

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The Adopt-a-Camp Foundation (AAC) is an internationally recognized and registered foundation created to meaningfully improve the lives of the men who build the beautiful cities we live in and through them, to reach out and aid the diverse communities from which they come.

Adopt-a-Camp has been working with labourers in labour camps for 10 years and currently has 53 camps and 57,400+ men under its wing.

Adopt a Camp Mission

The camps Adopt-a-Camp takes care of come under two categories:

Functioning camps are the permanently adopted ones where we work with the camp administration to enhance the lives of the men here by providing them with free English classes, free vocational classes, emotional counseling, hygiene workshops, outings so that they can actually have some wonderful experiences here rather than just slogging between their camps and worksites.

By adopting these boys, we are also reaching out to their families and communities. By educating them and improving their standard of living and earning capacity, we are improving the standard of living of their entire families and villages. Knowledge transfer has a beautiful butterfly effect. In the villages our boys are from, child literacy levels are increasing, especially for girls, dysentery and infection levels are down and thrillingly, child mortality levels are down too. People are hungry for knowledge. They want to learn. They want to better their lot in life. They just need to be given the chance.

The creation of the Scholarship Fund (first two years’ funds awarded by Kraft-Philadelphia from their Most Inspiring Woman in the Gulf Competition. Funds for third year onwards awarded by IBM) enables bright graduates of the English classes (organized with the wonderful AIA society and professors of American University of Dubai) to sit for the IELTs exam. Having an internationally-recognized accreditation under their belt results in tremendous increase in their salary potential, job opportunities and even opens up the door for emigration. It doesn’t just change the life of the man breaking stones on the side of the road here…it changes the lives of his future generations too.

Abandoned camps we saw mostly during the recession. Those are camps where the employers have absconded, usually leaving the men with no food, water, electricity and months of unremunerated salaries. We take care of them in every way until they find work with another company or until they safely return home. Where we can, we continue to help them once they’ve returned home too. Each one of these men becomes family so it’s hard to let go 🙂

Adopt-a-Camp is working with the Ministry of Labour as a portal for the men to get fast and effective relief. The Ministry of Labour is hugely supportive of workers here and goes to great lengths to help them. In the cases of abandoned camps, as most of the men are illiterate and unaware of how to get justice, Adopt-a-Camp (by being on the ground) helps to bridge any gaps between the MOL and the men.

The albums are mostly of the side of things that the public gets to see. Dubai has had some huge, wonderful Volunteer Days and Nights where thousands of volunteers came together to source, pack and go into the camps to distribute thousands of what I call “Care Packages”. The aim has been to make various camps bed-bug, cockroach and lice free. To give the men blankets, mattresses, hygiene items, food… basically, a fresh start… dignity. To date, over 35,000 hefty Care Packages have been distributed and countless food/water/clothes drop-offs.

The other side of things is behind the scenes and can be physically and emotionally more challenging. It involves all the other initiatives. Going to them, listening to them. I’m the mother/sister they don’t have here and my message to them is that they are not alone… that the people of U.A.E. care about them very much… because if it weren’t for your wonderful efforts and kindness, Adopt-a-Camp’s work wouldn’t be possible.

RAMADAN CARE PACKAGES

3000 Volunteers. 2000 Care Packages for 2000 men.
1000s of Smiles. 35 Adopt-a-Camp Team Leaders.
3 Days. 1 Community, 1 Family, 1 Heart. RCP’15.
There are moments in our lives that we remember forever. Memories that even when the world is dark, we can hold onto and they give us light and warmth. RCP ’15 is a whole collage of such moments. It’s hard to mention only one. There were the volunteers cracking hilarious jokes about the seemingly endless lines of supplies coming in and of assembled Care Packages stacking up, grinning away even whilst sweat was pouring down their faces. There were the adorable kids in the assembly lines calling out “Express Service” as they put supplies into the runners’ boxes. There was the awe-inspiring sight of volunteers led by the AAC team unloading supply trucks in the heat, pallet after pallet after pallet, determination shining in their eyes. There were the supporters: every single interaction was special from kids who’d broken open their piggy banks to sponsor a Care Package to companies whose people worked day and night to make sure their supplies reached in time to go in the Care Packages.
There was the time during the Adopt-a-camp Family iftaar before volunteers started coming in when I paused stuffing myself with the delicious food everyone had brought in to share and took a good, long look around at all the beloved AAC family faces. Each face radiated its own special “nur” (light). From our incredible youngest members to our selfless veterans of many years, I was struck by the differences in all of our backgrounds; yet standing there, munching, laughing, planning for the event ahead, we were all exactly the same, we were all one.

That feeling of oneness carried on ever so beautifully into Distribution Day. Hundreds of kind people who’d made the 2000 Care Packages possible giving them into the hands of thousands of municipality cleaners, welcoming them, cheering them, thanking them…unforgettable. The genuine smiles on everyone’s faces…unforgettable.

Ramadan Care Packages are probably our best known events but Adopt-a-Camp’s work is all year round and the people who make that possible are my family. Shamrez is the rock and our children are the inspiration. Words can’t even begin to describe their support and patience. They are truly Adopt-a-Camp’s angels.

Frequently Asked Question

A Frequently Asked Question is how to help and each time I’m asked that, I’m touched anew at the generosity, kindness and sincere desire to help of all of you here. Hopefully, this page will give you some ideas.

Some individuals initiate taking things a step further.. In each one of the cases, credit belongs to the individual/company.

Thankyou for wanting to help, for caring about these boys who have no one else and for reading this through till the end.

Grocery Donations

Food/water for abandoned camps is an ongoing issue so organizing funds/drives to gather the right food supplies and then taking them to the camps to give to the men is still a weekly task. Practical help is invaluable in this regard.

Recently, three schools: Raffles/Uptown Mirdiff/Australian School did a food/toiletries drive and then came to the camps with their students to distribute the supplies to the men. AIA, American University’s fantastic volunteer society, gathered funds for food/water. They took over the weekly grocery that would have been done for the men (all I did was place the order), purchased from the supermarkets in the labour camps area the supplies that the men needed and delivered to them. It was extra special because some of the men were attending the English Classes held at AUD. Some of the AIA volunteers were saying that they were meeting those men every Friday for class but they could never have imagined the circumstances those men were living in. It was eye-opening. Expatwoman.com kindly made a substantial donation which was used towards a week’s food/water for the men. Maria Carter organized and was funding subsidized water supplies for the men during summer. Wahbeez Wankadia, Inderdeep Singh and Maryum Khan regularly rally their friends to organize weekly groceries for the men. IHS Global raised funds in-house and then treated a camp to an all-out shopping spree. Ehsan Parham completed the Standard Chartered Marathon and donated his sponsorship funds towards caring for men of abandoned camps.

Humza Chaudhry, Mustafa Chaudhry, Ben Poletti and Mansur Mekan went on a trek to the Arctic Circle and set up a Fund for Men of Abandoned Camps with the sponsorship funds they raised. They have pretty much single-handedly been taking care of the weekly groceries, airplane tickets, transportation costs, fee costs, etc. of various abandoned camps for nearly two years now. These boys were 11 yea s old when they went on their trek. I remember they made a vow at the time that they would keep raising awareness until every stranded labourer returned home to his family. Their determination and steadfast commitment has been humbling.

These are some examples of incredibly generous and very importantly, extremely practical ways people/organizations have helped.

Creating awareness.

Many camps are still deadlocked in court cases. The more awareness there is, the more support the Page has, the more leverage it gives us in talking to the decision-makers because we’re able to say to them that “SO many people care about these men. Please do something to help them”.

Use your unique skill-sets and blessings available to you.

You have access to facilities that they don’t. Maybe there’s something you/your school/your company can do: organize an art workshop and an exhibition of their completed works, organize a talent competition, sponsor a movie night for them at the mall or via projector at your school auditorium/office, book a hairdresser for a few hours so that they can all get a decent barber service, take a camp shopping for new clothes (once I took the entire English class shopping as a treat from my husband so that they would all have new outfits to wear for their graduation party. Shereen/Askari, thanks for your help that evening! All of us had a blast!) The point is that these things are very doable.

Karen Dias gave the boys of an abandoned camp in Sajja digital photography workshops. Gulf Photo Plus passionately hosted an exhibition of the boys’ work (sponsored by EPSOM and Johnson & Johnson) which was a great success. All proceeds of the exhibition which was titled “Inside Sajja: a Labour of Light” went directly to the boys who had participated and were evenly distributed amongst them. It was a moment of elation for them to be able to call their families back home and tell them about the money they had earned by their new skills and passion.

One of the key things we do is try to organize opportunities for abandoned camp men to “earn” money. We don’t believe in charity handouts, we believe in maintaining their pride and self-respect and hopefully, providing them with some useful new skills along the way too.

A picnic in a park, kicking a football around for a game, these are things we are blessed enough to be able to take for granted but which mean so very much to them. Moez Hemani and his beautiful wife have a tradition. Each year they take a large group of workers out and give them a fantastic treat. This year it was a lunch cruise (there was even a magic show and dancing!) along the Creek for 50 men. The year before it was a desert safari for 100 men. These men build our beautiful cities but they never get a chance to enjoy them the way we do. It doesn’t need to be that way. Moez and his wife give them the gift of an unforgettable experience. That’s priceless.

Adopt-a-Camp provides the link and the know-how between ideas on how to improve life for the men and the labour camps themselves. Sometimes I get so busy just taking care of the boys that I often don’t have time to think beyond that and so your ideas are always a delight.

Transportation.

If you are someone or know of someone who can provide coaches/coasters/ vans to transport the boys to and from such outings, that would be really helpful. Also, a trickle of men from abandoned camps has started going home. These men need transportation: someone to pick them from their camp and drop them to the airport. Neha Mistry, Maria Carter and Warda alJawahiry have been three such helpful angels. Sponsorship of plane tickets is also required. I’ll post on the Facebook page when the next boy/boys are joyfully returning home and that is a very real way you can reach out and help.

Storage.

Storage space is constantly an issue. If someone has a garage which they don’t mind lending out as storage or space in a warehouse, please get in touch!

Open your eyes and look around.

Even if you’re not coming to the camps on a regular basis or involved with labourers as such, there are still SO many people within your immediate vicinity where you can make a difference. The cleaner at the spa where you go for your massages, the cleaners at the mall quietly sweeping away your detritus while you’re shopping away, the men/women standing in the heat in the mall’s parking lots for your tickets, the security guard in your building/community, the gardeners who come round, the labourer standing behind you in the queue at the grocery store, the female attendants in the ladies’ washroom.

You can forgo the coffee you were going to get and slip them a tip. You can create your own goody bags at home and do a “giving day” with your children: giving the bags away to cleaners, car-washing boys, etc. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon at the mall with your kids. My God! The smiles on everyone’s faces by the end of it are priceless!

Adopt-a-Camp’s philosophy is all about human beings reaching out to human beings. There are no political agendas, no committee meetings, no mantras being beaten on a drum, no glamorous galas. It’s as simple as life can be. A smile, a gesture, simple caring. It’s something any one of us can do.

General stuff:

Many kind people offer to come out to the camps and lend a pair of hands on my daily rounds. Unlike other regular volunteering situations and our own Care Packages events, where a pair of hands are invaluable; on normal trips, I go to labour camps where there are hundreds, if not thousands, of pairs of hands. They guys are lovely. They do all the lifting, carrying, sorting, etc. so it’s extremely rare to need people coming along just like that.

Though there is rarely need on a daily basis for people to come along to the visits, there are many times when we reach out for your help via postings on Adopt-a-Camp’s Facebook page. If the request is something that speaks to your heart and fits in your schedule, please respond on the page and we’ll gratefully get in touch with you.

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