Helping the less privileged

June 21, 2014 - 5:20:53 am

DOHA: This summer has seen many trying to make a difference in the lives of the less privileged, by reaching out to low-income workers with acts of kindness.

Some have launched campaigns on social media, and several others have joined such initiatives and reached out to low-income workers with small gestures like giving bottles of water to those working in the hot sun or having a conversation with them to make them feel appreciated. Some collect old clothes and household goods and distribute them to the workers, or educate them on how to remain safe when temperatures rise, and provide them food.

These individuals believe that it is their social responsibility as residents and citizens of Qatar to enable low-income workers live a better life.

“This is society taking the responsibility of supporting people who aren’t as privileged as them, it’s our collective responsibility,” said Khalifa Saleh Al Haroon, Founder of ILoveQatar.net, a community-based website that spreads awareness of initiatives to support low-income workers.

Al Haroon said society should also help low-income workers get better accommodation.

“If they don’t have proper accommodation, it is the society’s responsibility to help them. Many people come here to work for a better life, so let us give it to them,” he said.

‘Dohnates’, a small group of volunteers, aims to improve the lives of workers in the Industrial Area by collecting clothes and household items from around Qatar to be distributed in labour camps.

The first camp selected for donations has 834 residents. Volunteers collect things such as beddings, towels, storage boxes, furniture, kitchen items, sunglasses, hats, umbrellas, sunshades, electrical items, bags and suitcases, clothes and shoes.

“Dohnates is just a small pilot project and we already have more interest than expected,” said a member of the group.

In an unplanned moment, Aakash Jayaprakash, who is working on migrant worker issues in Qatar for about eight years, decided to tweet using the hashtag #WhatIWillDo, encouraging his friends and others to share their views on what they can do as individuals to improve the lives of low-income workers. His tweet received overwhelming support and many people got involved.

One commentator on Twitter said, “I’ll use my social media accounts to spread the word about the atrocities faced by migrant workers in Qatar.”

Another said, “What I will do is never pretend its okay when I see a migrant worker being mistreated. I will talk, I will act, I will say something.”

“I’ll do my best to empower and educate them about their rights,” said another commentator on Twitter.

Several others have gone beyond social media. There are videos online of residents in Qatar doing small yet important deeds, such as handing out water to those working in the heat.

They urge people to give a bottle of water, smile, greet, give a helping hand or make a gesture of respect to low-income workers.

“I want to reiterate that everybody in Qatar has a responsibility to improve the situation in Qatar. We do this not because of global attention but because it is simply the right thing to do. Low-income workers in Qatar need to be seen as individuals and people first, and unfortunately they are victimised in much of their coverage,” said Jayaprakash.

“Simple things such as smiling, being polite and respectful takes very little effort but has a significant impact on the relationships we have with this group of people who build Qatar, clean and maintain it and guard it, he added.

Jayaprakash also suggests that people report labour law violations, when they see them, to Qatari authorities.

A local online publication, ‘Just Here’, and ‘See My Culture’, a community initiative, have also joined the campaign.

They urge people to start acting rather than talking on social media, to step out and start doing something — even if they are just small gestures like giving workers bottles of water,  greeting them, or simply smiling at them and making their day.

The workers on the street don’t have much access to water and there aren’t many shops around. Even if they have access to public water taps, the water is very hot because of the heat. Companies do provide water, but again, given the daytime temperatures in Doha, the water heats up. A cold, refreshing drink makes their day.

“Everyone has an opinion on the issue of low-income migrant workers in Qatar. The media writes and exposes. The community tweets and talks about it all the time. While opinions are important, what can we do to be part of the solution? Isn’t it time to turn our words into actions? It is easy to tweet and post from the comfort of our homes and offices, but ultimately it is our actions that will change, or at least improve, the situation,” says Sara, co-founder with Khalid Al Hammadi of See My Culture.

“Rui, a volunteer from Portugal, and we decided to go out and buy more than  a hundred drinks and give them out to anyone working under the sun or in the heat. In one hour, all of it was gone,” she added.

The campaign has benefited hundreds of low-income workers. At least 4,000 people have viewed the films of the campaign online, which show how people can help.

Some commentators responded on Twitter with advice such as, “Distribute water with friends to workers in the heat. Have a go one weekend!”, and “Going for a car wash? Get some water for the guys who shine your car.”

Commenting on the campaign, Vani Saraswathi, a long-term resident and managing editor of Justhere.qa, said, “The tie-up with See my Culture was to encourage people to interact with those out of their social circle. Low-income expatriates literally merge with the environment. No one really sees the ‘person’ in the blue or yellow overall. But when you stop and say hello, or ask them how they are, then you stop feeling pity. What you feel is empathy for their struggles, which are not too different from many of ours.”

A group of  Qataris and expatriates has also been assisting workers in distress who need help in the form of food, transportation to labour courts, and medical assistance. They also guide workers through official procedures, documenting the work for research purposes and for raising awareness in the local community.

In a separate initiative, the staff of Reach Out to Asia (ROTA) has launched a campaign called ‘We Really Care’. They prepare hundreds of food packages for construction workers and distribute them at different work sites.

The food packs include water and fruits to help prevent dehydration.

“Charity begins at home. We are proud of our staff, who launched their own ‘We Really Care’ initiative, preparing food packs for construction workers in Qatar,” ROTA says on its Facebook page with several photos of the initiative.

Meanwhile, the Kulluna national safety campaign is reaching people who work outdoors, especially at construction sites, to educate them on how to avoid exposure to heat and heat-related illnesses.

“We are saying to the people who work outdoors to take some precautions for prevention of heat exhaustion, and how to identify it,” said Dr Khalid Saideldeen, chairman of the Kulluna campaign.

Those working outside are being advised to beat the heat by drinking plenty of water, taking regular breaks and staying in the shade wherever possible.

To take the campaign to the public, the Kulluna team will use a mobile centre that will visit different places in Qatar, including public places and workplaces. The information is given in four languages: English, Arabic, Malayalam and Hindi.

THE PENINSULA

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