This column was originally published in Ramadan 2017. 

Two weeks of Ramadan have gone by swiftly; we have had the chance to get immersed in the Ramadan spirit and, of course, for those of you that have successfully acknowledged and changed your habits for the better, that’s an achievement itself.

We are all works in progress, so keep doing good and trying to improve yourself. This column follows on from what I wrote about self-reflection last week, and will take a deeper look into two aspects that are key elements of your altruistic journey – Time and Volunteerism.

I hope you have all had the time to assess yourselves honestly. It’s now time to weigh up what you plan to do in light of current Ramadan timings, your energy levels and commitments during the second half of this spiritual month.

Time is something that we often take for granted, as every second of our lives ticks away without us being able to press a pause button. Considering that our time is somewhat limited, we should engage in activities that make us happy and that contribute to our wellbeing.

Time is one of the best gifts you can give, not only to those in need or to charities, but to anyone, whether it be a friend, family member or a stranger.

 

So, this brings me to the concept of the altruistic journey of volunteering. Giving your time to a cause, keep in mind the words of wisdom of Greek fabulist Aesop. ‘No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.’ It is not about counting the hours you put in, but living every moment and finding enrichment in the experience.

Volunteerism is the time you donate to a cause, an event or a charity. Depending on the initiative you are working with, some do require a minimum commitment, so be up front about how much time you are able to give.

With “Wanna Read?”, an initiative I founded and am actively involved with, we create simulating and enriching environments for children in hospital by providing them with books. Children usually associate the hospital environment with pain, anxiety and boredom, sometimes making treatment difficult for healthcare practitioners.

Gabrielle O’Kane, our head volunteer at ‘Wanna Read?’, a nurse by profession but who has not been working in her field since arriving in Abu Dhabi, has been an integral part of our team allowing for members of our community to read to the children in hospitals. She shared her sentiments, saying, ‘it makes me feel good that I’ve been able to help somebody else when they are not feeling their best’.

Beacon of Hope, another of my initiatives, delivers solar light kits to children in economically and socially challenged regions that lack basic access to light. These kits come unassembled, and therefore we are empowering young people to build their own circuits – a lesson in a box. We also work with children in the UAE, introducing them to the concepts of youth philanthropy, renewable energy and energy poverty. Children in the UAE purchase a light that they construct and then donate back to Beacon of Hope for us to take on our missions. We have recently collaborated with Dubai Cares’ Reading Nation and for every light, they give us a book that will go to an underprivileged child. Our belief is that light and literacy bring hope.

Last week, a new platform was launched called Volunteers.ae. This online platform was created to facilitate volunteerism across the United Arab Emirates in fourteen different areas of social responsibility. You can register as an individual or as a group working within an organisation.

There are many social and humanitarian organisations in the UAE that need helping hands to fulfil their missions. This is not only about helping those in need, but the impact it can have on the volunteer is immeasurable.

Some of the benefits include learning new skills, meeting like-minded people, exploring new career paths, giving you confidence and a purpose in life. Most importantly, giving back to your community is something that creates social cohesion.

One social initiative that has gained a lot of momentum during this holy month is Ramadan Aman. You may have seen groups of volunteers around the city’s streets with blue boxes containing food that are given to drivers during the time of iftar. Statistics have shown an increase in car accidents during iftar time with drivers rushing to get home to eat. This initiative acknowledges the value of human life by targeting the simple issue of drivers ignoring safety on the roads in order to arrive at home in time for iftar.

There are many other initiatives out there that need your help, especially during Ramadan. You can register online with the new volunteering platform or look for a cause that you feel that you can get involved with.

Be part of this altruistic journey and take a more active role in your community by making a gift of your time and your skills in the place in which you live.

Shaikha Shamma Bint Sultan Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan is a philanthropist and founder of the Wanna Read? initiative.