With Ramadan here, the spirit of charity and helping is in the air. Yet there are some who take charity to a higher level; Saher Shaikh in Dubai has made her charity “The Adopt-a-Camp Foundation” an intrinsic part of her life for the past decade. HEALTH met with Saher to learn more…
What does charity mean to you personally?
“I’m a great believer in what my mother taught me about charity, that giving should not be about thrusting aid upon another and then expecting gratitude. First and foremost, it has to maintain the beneficiary’s respect and dignity otherwise it’s useless and it should be done for no other reason other than it’s the right thing to do. If we have been fortunate enough to be blessed with health and stability, it is our duty to share our blessings, in whichever way we can, with those less fortunate. Personal reward, whether spiritual or emotional, shouldn’t play a role in it. Islam is an incredibly charitable religion. It very strongly encourages people to care for the needy members of society and there are numerous mentions of the spiritual rewards of doing so. My parents imbued that thinking within me but to a slightly more esoteric level; that we should do good not to be rewarded but simply because it’s the right thing to do. One day we will have to face our Creator who will question what we did with the blessings He bestowed. We need to have an answer for Him. We need to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror every night and feel that we tried to make a difference that day. All of my work is to try and follow in my parents’ footsteps and the example of kindness they’ve set before me their entire lives.”
How did your project begin?
“It started off with a chance encounter with a laborer at my local supermarket 10 years ago. Today the Adopt-a-Camp Foundation has grown into the largest, non-profit NGO in the UAE. We take care of laborers in labor camps, their families, and their communities back home. There are currently over 57,000 laborers under Adopta- Camp’s umbrella. By ‘taking care of’ we mean the way a parent would take care of their child, addressing their educational and health needs, emotional and social well-being.”
What is your advice to people who want to make a change but don’t know how?
“Making a change doesn’t require boardroom meetings or intense thought. Just look around you. There is always someone whose day you can change by reaching out to them. It could be a friend who needs a non-judgmental listener, cleaners at the mall who’d be grateful for a meal or tip, treating the men cleaning the sides of the road to snacks and cold drinks, paying the maids in our homes better salaries. Many of us think nothing of treating ourselves to costly beauty treatments but complain about increasing the salaries of the people who work in our homes. Every single person can make a change. The change can start in our own homes and backyards. If all of us took care of those around
us, eventually those circles of caring would start to overlap and the world would become a better place…”
With Ramadan approaching, why do you feel charity is such an important element of this Holy month?
“Charity and helping others should be an important element of every month. The poor are poor all year round, not only during Ramadan. However, fasting can provide such a powerful conduit to the Almighty that it awakens some people’s consciousness to a greater degree than perhaps the rest of the year. Fasting is such an equalizer between rich and poor. Everyone is looking forward to that first sip of water at the break of fast. People are striving towards purity in mind, body and soul with greater and rejuvenated earnestness. It truly puts people in a more empathetic frame of mind and aids in creating bonds between fellow-men. When someone in his air-conditioned car is driving past a laborer working in the heat, for those hours of fasting, they have the same thoughts on their mind–hope for a sustaining meal at the end of the day and a wish to please Allah. People have the same hopes and dreams throughout the year but it’s during Ramadan that people tend to feel that human kinship even more.”
Who is your greatest motivator?
“My husband. He is one of a kind and a credit to his parents for raising him that way. He has been Adopt-a-Camp’s biggest and most patient supporter. The men we help, they themselves are also a huge inspiration and motivation. Seeing their joy in what we do for them, their
families and communities is something that really motivates us to keep going.”