Photo by Jourdan Enriquez/The Gazelle
From April 15 to 18, ADvocacy will host the pledgeUcare drive, an opportunity for students to show their support for the community that surrounds us. Each year, ADvocacy hosts a series of item donation drives to assist low-income residents of the city; however, this year is the first time we will participate in a Global Network University-wide event such as showUcare week. The stated goal of this event is to “prepare students to engage their communities in human rights initiatives and challenge individuals to think critically about change efforts in the global society.”
Here, at NYUAD, we will be collecting pledges at Downtown Campus for items to be donated to Abu Dhabi’s low-income migrant worker communities. We want to encourage all students to participate by contributing at least one item, which will be donated to a local church that distributes items to the target population.
That said, we recognize that donation drives can feel somewhat disconnected from the communities we serve. We believe strongly that true community engagement comes from forging ties with the men and women of this city who make our collective lives possible. While donation drives may fill necessary material needs, sustained volunteerism enables us, as a student body, to empathize with the many cultural and national communities that make up the city.
For students who are more interested in long-term engagements in Abu Dhabi, the Office of Community Outreach and ADvocacy sponsor a number of other volunteer activities: volunteering with community centers, teaching ESL and vocational skill classes to migrant worker communities and hosting weekly arts and crafts workshops. Students involved in these activities leave with a renewed sense of belonging to a world larger than our micro-community of approximately 450 students.
Environmentally-minded students can also find a variety of ways to get involved. SIGs such as Ecoherence organize several projects that promote environmental stewardship in the Emirates, like water bottle recycling drives and community spring cleaning — an event for students to exchange clothing and goods instead of throwing them away. They are also preparing for Earth Day, an awareness campaign on April 22.
So, why should you volunteer? Many students talk about the Sama Tower Bubble, an inability to connect meaningfully with the community around us. Initiatives by Community Outreach, ADvocacy and other SIGs are key ways in which our students can bridge the divide from the Sama Tower lobby to the the community at large. At times, Abu Dhabi can feel very disjointed, with many stratified groups often not converging or interacting. Through volunteerism, we can help shape a community that recognizes both the diversity of our city, and the possibility of working together to make it an even more hospitable place. In addition, volunteerism benefits both the community and the volunteer. It is also an opportunity for experiential learning and personal growth.
For all of us, volunteering provides a grounded perspective on the often difficult realities many people face in Abu Dhabi, and informs our understanding of NYUAD’s role in the Emirates. It is imperative to think critically about our role here and the ways in which we can make a positive change. Students who choose not to engage outside their Sama Tower to DTC route fail to help build the type of cosmopolitan community to which NYUAD is committed.
That being said, we recognize that finding volunteer opportunities in the Emirates is not easy. While there are many roadblocks that come with volunteering in the UAE, over the past three years we have witnessed a significant expansion of volunteer opportunities through emerging humanitarian organizations. Students who have reached out to civic society in the UAE have found that our time and efforts can be used to implement valuable initiatives. It is important for students to remain consistent in their aspirations to volunteer, especially as the year progresses and there is a clear deficit of volunteers. For example, ADvocacy’s volunteer rosters begin the year with dozens of interested students, yet dwindles to as little as four or five per initiative as the semester wears on. Instead of sitting on Facebook for hours or wandering the halls of Sama Tower, students could better use their time to benefit the broader Abu Dhabi community.
As we prepare for our transition to Saadiyat Island, we have to ask ourselves: how will we engage with Abu Dhabi? This is why it’s important today to establish a relationship with the city and its people, to realize the potential for a meaningful partnership with residents of the Emirates.
Geo Kamus, Nicole Lopez del Carril, Đorđe Modraković and Alex Wang are contributing writers. Email them at email@example.com.