Dubai-UAE: Dubai Cares has successfully concluded a pilot project of its Volunteer Globally program in Cambodia which offered UAE-residents one-week volunteering opportunities over 6-weeks to help improve underprivileged children’s access to quality primary education. From 27 March to 7 May, 2009, the charitable establishment sent volunteers, representing more than 12 different nationalities, to Cambodia in what volunteers describe as a “life-changing” experience.
The program was part of a joint initiative between Dubai Cares and PEPY, a non-profit organization, registered in both Cambodia and the US, which helps to fund educational initiatives in Cambodia. The South East Asian country was selected for the Volunteer Globally program and Dubai Cares funding in accordance with the charitable establishment’s needs-based criteria.
Over 6-weeks, Dubai Cares volunteers worked alongside the community and local contractors to construct the schools, with mothers and children helping volunteers contribute to improving the learning environment for the children in the village. In the end, volunteers helped build three schools, providing 700 Cambodian children access to primary education, with the largest school having 280 students. The 3 schools, consisting of a total of 15 classrooms, were constructed in Chanleas Dai commune in the province of Siem Riep, among the poorest in Cambodia where both dropout and child labor rates are extremely high.
Reem Al Hashimy, Chairperson of Dubai Cares, said: “The act of deliberately interrupting one’s life to travel to a distant, foreign country with a desire to help underprivileged children is a remarkable one. Dubai Cares volunteers should be commended for making the sacrifice, investing personal time, money and physical effort, to help provide the children of Chanleas Dai access to child-friendly schools.
Al Hashimy added: “The volunteers are a source of pride for Dubai Cares - a true microcosm of the multicultural community of the UAE. A diverse array of nationalities, ages and experiences, our volunteers formed a cohesive team united by the shared experience of working hand-in-hand with members of an underprivileged community to help them overcome obstacles to personal and sustainable development.”
Daniela Papi, PEPY's founder, said: “The volunteers who joined us from the UAE contributed through their time, their friendships, and their dedication to learning more about the communities they visited. We are grateful that Dubai Cares chose to work with PEPY for these projects as we are committed to improving and monitoring the impact of these schools here in Cambodia for many years to come."
The situation for primary-aged children in Siem Riep province is not uncommon in Cambodia. During the Khmer Rouge regime, which ruled Cambodia for over 2 decades, education was dealt a severe setback, and the great strides made in literacy and education since the country’s independence in 1953 were obliterated systematically. Schools were closed, and educated people and teachers were subjected to, at the least, suspicion and harsh treatment and, at the worst, execution.
Dubai Cares funded the building of the three schools including the construction of 12 latrines with disability access; and, school furniture for 15 classrooms, including 15 teacher desks, 320 student desks and benches and 15 white boards.
For many volunteers, the experience in Cambodia helped them form new perspectives on philanthropy and sustainable development. The Volunteer Globally program also provided volunteers the opportunity to work side by side with underprivileged children and to witness, first-hand, the direct impact of their hard work on the lives of the children and their communities.
Among the volunteers was a group of students from Zayed University, including Fatima Al Sayegh, UAE national, who said: “Because of this trip, volunteering locally and abroad with Dubai Cares has come to the forefront of my future plans. In just 5 days, a small group of Zayed University students and faculty managed to create a difference in the future of many people.”
Carla Duarte, a UAE-based, Portuguese national, said she was “inspired by Dubai Cares’ passion to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate.”
Kamelia Zaal, UAE national, said: “This experience forces you to see realities that exist in other countries, for their children - if we can help just a little then we are making a difference. We formed incredible bonds with everyone in such a short amount of time and what is amazing is getting to know the community and children you are working for.”
Jeff Strachan, a British national, said Dubai Cares has “created a legacy which will endure and has set the first stone in place to provide basic infrastructure that will improve education and break the cycle of poverty which currently exists.”
Volunteer Globally was launched by Dubai Cares as part of its Volunteer Campaign, offering 1-week volunteer opportunities in an international community. The results of the pilot project in Cambodia will serve as the basis for Dubai Cares to define in what capacity the program will continue in the future. Already, Dubai Cares’ Volunteer Emirates program has brought together approximately 500 volunteers from throughout the UAE to create child-friendly learning environments in the Emirates. Local beneficiary schools include Sheikh Rashid Al Maktoum Pakistan School, Dubai; Manar Al Iman School, Ajman; and, Um Al Qura School, Um Al Quwain.