The labour of ladies

Elest Ali learns a thing or two about women’s labour camps in Abu Dhabi and how local entrepreneurs are supporting workers Discuss this article

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It’s probably a little known fact that there are women’s labour camps in the UAE. It certainly came as news to us, and resulted in some shameful head-hanging. Abu Dhabi’s West Coast Ladies labour camp is one such, housing between 100-150 female labourers. Its inhabitants are usually industrial cleaners – namely, those ladies we all pass by obliviously during our shopping sprees at the mall.

The ladies at the West Coast live eight to a room. They have very basic amenities and a gaping need for large appliances like freezers and washing machines. They have a kitchen with open burners where they’re able to cook their meals. They’re given food allowances, but for all their other needs the small salary they receive must stretch a long way to get by on. This can be something of a challenge, considering most of the women are in Abu Dhabi to earn money they can send to their families back home.

In spite of all this, the West Coast ladies are blessed, in the form of some very active social entrepreneurs. Pamela Abdulla and Mariam Al Mazrouri have become familiar names on the charity scene. The two lead a group of like-minded Emirati and expat women in organising charitable events and fundraisers in Abu Dhabi. Pamela has been working closely the West Coast Ladies Labour camp for over three years now. The last time we spoke to her, she was preoccupied with the ordeal of trying to get a washing machine loaded onto the back of her vehicle. Said machine was the largest of many gifts being donated that afternoon, out of proceeds from fundraisers like the Moon-glow yoga event and the Divine Bags auction which took place in Abu Dhabi earlier this year.

Their most recent event, a festive holiday party part-funded by yoga instructor Jasmine Brawn, provided a variety of gifts from goodie bags to a new fridge. Contributions came from every walk of life, and included karaoke, a Christmas tree, performances by the Abu Dhabi Voices of Harmony choir and a festive spread with six roast turkeys courtesy of the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr (one of few corporate sponsors who support the initiative, and often donate toiletries for the camp ladies). All this demonstrates how every little contribution or donation will help make the ladies’ lives that much easier, especially since they’ll often be inclined to tolerate personal difficulty in order to support their loved ones. ‘Their goal here is to earn money and send it home,’ says Pamela. ‘So every bit that they get donated, means more money that they can send home.’
Now the good news is that Pamela and Mariam are in the process of consolidating their charity work as a registered non-profit. The basic idea (which has worked so well thus far) will remain the same. ‘We are very wedded to the concept of collective volunteerism between expats and locals, on behalf of both expats and locals,’ says Pamela, and stresses that their work is not related exclusively to labour camps and labourer issues, but also about helping local families in need. The even better news is that the West Coast ladies have a second festive party to look forward to on December 25. And this is the part the rest of us come in, because they need volunteers.

‘Often these things [events] are a product of the volunteers themselves,’ explains Pamela, when asked what kind of responsibilities potential volunteers should expect. The key words here are creativity and initiative. ‘A volunteer will call me and say “hey, I can do this,” and it’ll be some fabulous idea that I never would have thought of, and I’ll say, “Absolutely!”’

Each event is as fantastic as its volunteers, so if you want to contribute your time and effort into something really special on Sunday, say ‘Aye!’ Great food (with turkey from the Beach Rotana) and the gift of a library feature high on the list of treats for the day. If you’re pressed for bright ideas, feel free to bring along some homemade goodies and the gift of a book.

You can support the ongoing work for labour camps, labourer initiatives and tackling poverty in Abu Dhabi by raising awareness. So shout about it over Facebook or call up your friends.
To get involved, or make a donation, contact Pamela Abdulla at (050 220 4173) or Mariam Al Mazrouri at (050 312 7222).

By Elest Ali
Time Out Abu Dhabi,

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