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18 November, 2005

Labourer Day

Friday is Labourer Day at Ibn Battuta mall, when crowds of merry men descend from the camps to enjoy their one day off.

These men are instantly recogniseable by their similar height and hairstyles, their amazingly clean, neatly pressed clothes, the way they hang around in groups but don't enter shops (who can afford to buy a Vertu in Rivoli on a salary of Dh300 a month?) and the way they stare vacantly at women in a way that arouses as much frustration and irritation as it does compassion and pity.

But another factor that may not be remarked on at first is the lack of spectacles worn by these men. There is not a pair of glasses or a monocle among them, and their pittance salaries preclude contact lenses. Could it be, in a world where at least a quarter of the population is myopic, that these labourers represent some strongly-sighted super race?

"Not so," is the answer from the eminent Dubai ophthalmist Dr Badger, when the question is put to him. "I would say at least ten to fifteen per cent of those men require correction."

Dr Badger points out that cataracts are also a major problem in the sandlands, as labourers toil in the blazing sun with no shades.

Would protection and correction reduce workplace accidents? "Undoubtedly".

But sadly, the labourers can't afford either. Charities such as Vision Aid Overseas encourage people to donate old spectacles and sunglasses, which are sent to developing countries. Such a service would be an excellent idea in the UAE.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

For being a developed country i think the UAE's policies are quite undeveloped. I think the UAE needs humanitarian laws more than it needs anything else.

18 November, 2005 01:58  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I spent a month in the UAE this summer visiting a friend in Sharjah. I am an optician by trade and have worked in every aspect of the optical industry for the past 20 years , truely my passion. I returned home in September, but I keep wondering if it would be possible to set up an organization for free eye testing and glasses, on a very basic scale, to those who need it. Here in Canada trips are made regularily to the northern indian communities with nothing more than an autorefactor and a box of glasses that are often just "close enough" to their prescription. A to Z can take 10 to 20 minutes, and they walk away with sight.
My friend in the UAE laughs at me when I suggest this for the construction workers. Apparently people are supposed to be thinking about making thier fortune in Dubai, not doing charity work.

I appreciate your observations, they confirm mine and will encourage me to look into it further. My initial concern is trying to get backing ( and sympathy) in a country of such wealth that obviously does not consider these workers a high priority .. and the humanitarian issues, well, what can I say ? I would love to have a chance to show them how it is done.

The way I see it, vision is more than just making a 300% markup on a pair of Gucci sunglasses. Vision is a basic right, and to those who cannot afford it, it should be a gift that is offered.

Quebec, Canada

18 November, 2005 05:41  
Blogger CG said...

very interesting. I am all for starting some kind of charity organisation here to collect old glasses and encourage Opticions to give up some free time.

pondering on that one....

18 November, 2005 08:40  
Blogger Tim Newman said...

Donating spectacles is not the answer, at least in the long term. What these people need is not free spectacles but a chance to work in an economy which allows the free movement of labour, enabling workers to individually bargain with employers and seek for alternative work whenever they like.

Unless and until the UAE realises that a modern economy based on free movement of labour and capital is far better for both the workers and the country than the current sponsorship system which traps people into near-slavery, then I guess the best we can do is dish out free spectacles.

18 November, 2005 09:13  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post. Appreciate P Winston's concern and the truth of what he says ''My initial concern is trying to get backing ( and sympathy) in a country of such wealth that obviously does not consider these workers a high priority ..''

Tim Newman you are right too. The whole business of sponsorships, sponsors having custody of your passport and the concept of an exit permit (prevalent in Qatar) stinks.

Sometimes I think that by just being here I am guilty too of being a part of this discrimnatory system.

18 November, 2005 10:21  
Blogger samuraisam said...

being the UAE, they probably could buy a few laser eye surgery machines, and offer them at reduced rates to people who earn X salary. Not quite sure about the logistics of laser eye surgery myself though, maybe someone can enlighten?

18 November, 2005 10:48  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Tim Newman. The solution is not a handout.. the solution is providing the employment environment that allows the laborers to purchase their own glasses.

18 November, 2005 10:59  
Blogger secretdubai said...

Anonymous in Quebec - I contacted Vision Aid, and while they don't operate here, they would be very happy to ship donated eyeglasses here - if they can get a donor to pay for freight and a local charity/organisation to handle distribution.

I have zero experience in this kind of thing so I'm asking around.

18 November, 2005 11:48  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Secret Dubai", I would speak to Gulf For Good. Not only is the guy who runs it an experienced fund raiser at the highest levels in the UAE, but he also has lots of experience of running courier companies in the UAE. His name is Brian.
As for the usual dose of cynicism, the UAE - and it's largely ex-pat population - gives an awful lot ot charity, whether it's the Red Cross or aid for tsunami victims.

18 November, 2005 13:12  
Blogger CG said...

Sd, I have already sent out feelers about the feasability of getting a charity license asap for this purpose. I shall let you know how it goes.

Tim, I truly think you are living in the wrong place. The glasses will be a good start but you are proposing sounds close to ludicrous.
Do you know what the area Rashidya was intended for? It was not that long ago you know. Don't push the country before it is ready or the consequences could be dire.

18 November, 2005 13:23  
Blogger Tim Newman said...

Tim, I truly think you are living in the wrong place.

Erm, why?

The glasses will be a good start but you are proposing sounds close to ludicrous.

A quick look at the world's developed economies ought to demonstrate that scrapping the compulsory sponsorship system and adopting a modern economic system which allows for free movement of labour is not ludicrous but inherently sensible, if not vital.

Do you know what the area Rashidya was intended for?


Don't push the country before it is ready or the consequences could be dire.

That's a handy excuse for not reforming the economy, but there is little to suggest that dire consequences would result from allowing free movement of labour in the UAE - except maybe from the point of view of the sponsor's bank accounts.

18 November, 2005 13:57  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whilst the point about labourers needing to be more economically empowered is a good one, there is a large segment of the community that needs specs today.

Yes charity can mask underlying problems by tackling only the symptoms and leaving the root causes untouched. However I suspect a lot of the poorer members of our community would rather hear about when/if they will get free or affordable eye tests and glasses than listen to a debate on economics.

I recall a mall in Abu Dhabi advertising free health checks last year to encourage punters through the doors. This makes me think that there is a need for an improvement in accessibility for basic health care be it optical, dental or general practice.

We all share a responsibility to help the weaker (economically, socially, politically, physically etc) members of our community. Not everybody can change economic policy but that does not preclude them from making a positive difference. Good acts might give a warm, all-over feeling and possibly even help getting into heaven but for the more hard nosed moments it is worth remembering that good health IS good business.

18 November, 2005 14:25  
Blogger secretdubai said...

Anonymous@13:12 - thanks, I will do so.

18 November, 2005 17:54  
Blogger secretdubai said...

And CG too - thanks!

Would be nice if something could be set up.

18 November, 2005 17:55  
Blogger One Nine Seven One said...

Very interesting post. About setting up a charity or fund to help those who may have some sight problems. There is actually someone of influence I can talk to about this, but no guarantee that i can get anything done, lets see what happens :)

18 November, 2005 18:30  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so happy to see the interest in this need for better eye care for those who dont have the means. If you do manage to find the charity I have no problem finding used glasses here in Canada. I have a box of about 500 pairs of glasses sitting at the office waiting to go and would welcome the opportunity to help further by collecting more through various organizations and contacts that I have here.


18 November, 2005 18:53  
Blogger moryarti said...

Fund raising shouldn't be a problem if the right people are targeted. Local representatives of MNCs and Blue-chips have dedicated CSR budgets that usually end up on beach cleanups..

I am sure such a project, if property constructed, can be very attractive to companies with "image" problems (no pun intended)...

18 November, 2005 20:04  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I completely agree that something must be done but I completely disagree about the methods being suggested.

The UAE, and Dubai in particular, has far more money than it knows what to do with and is world-famous for outrageous displays of wealth. Islam has a fine tradition of charity and good works. Putting the two together, Dubai ought to be mortified that Canadians and a UK charity have to step in to help meet some of the most basic needs of UAE laborers.

Unfortunately, Dubai often seems intent on bridging the gap between Islam and the West by combining the least attractive elements of both. In my opinion, this is on par with petrol stations stealing tips from employees. If you want your employees to work, you make sure they have the tools for the job and one of those tools is being able to see.

At the end of the day, it would cost a relative pittance to solve this problem for every laborer in Dubai. If the government of Dubai won't set up a program out of embarrasment, then some Shaykh ought to start a UAE-based charity to do so.

If a foreign organization does have to step in, I hope there is a great deal of international and local publicity highlighting that a charity that usually devotes its resources to the poorest of the poor had to step in to meet a basic need in one of the richest countries on earth.

18 November, 2005 22:34  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great idea! in France they have glass jars in lasik eye surgerys where people who have just had their eye sight restored can drop off the glasses that they have no use for. The jars get emptied quite often and the old specs are distributed to those that need them. If a eye clinic even once a month was set up in Al Quoz with an optician donating their time to fit the glasses think about how many people could be helped!

Changing the labour laws is something that takes time and would be fantastic but till that day arrives I think people should focus on what they can do now to help those in need.

19 November, 2005 00:01  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

monocle? are you retarded?

19 November, 2005 03:58  
Blogger secretdubai said...

monocle? are you retarded?

No... but I rather suspect you might be.

19 November, 2005 05:27  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think if the employee who builds the constructions has bad vision, he certainly is unable to build safe buildings-

If concept of charity is laughed at in Dubai, I hope someone is articulate and knowledgeable enough to explain the long-term economic benefit of the basic eye care system for these workers to Sheikh Mo or other authoritative figures : )

19 November, 2005 10:04  
Blogger desertdamsel said...

Sorry, but can't read your post?

19 November, 2005 10:51  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where did monocle come from?? I've read everything through and can't find any references to a monocle.

19 November, 2005 15:23  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Try reading the original post, look in the third paragraph, third line, first word.

Oh, now I see, you need to be part of this scheme for free spectacles!


19 November, 2005 15:40  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I spent some time this year hanging out with labourers. Don't think I'd be able to manage 2 years in Sonapour.

19 November, 2005 16:08  
Blogger One Nine Seven One said...

Mr P Winston from you have any contact details? I would appreciate it if you can send them to my email address, indicated in my profile. Cheers.

19 November, 2005 22:27  
Blogger _sublime_ said...

If the labourers were given free spectacles it would likely prove useful in curing the staring at women problem in as they would finally be able to see that too many women in dubai are all about garish highlights, bad tans and even worse make up.

19 November, 2005 22:55  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is one of the best posts I've seen.

It's insightful and seeks to do something practical. I have to congratulate SD on having seen through to a true humanitarian issue where others would have just seen pesky labourers bothering them just by being there.

And most of the responses here have been both heartening and practical. I certainly hope something good comes to pass.

As one of your commenters said:

"We all share a responsibility to help the weaker (economically, socially, politically, physically etc) members of our community. Not everybody can change economic policy but that does not preclude them from making a positive difference."

Quite unlike the rather shallow statement I saw on another blog, which referring to the condition of labourers in this country said quite blandly:

"Their reward is their is yours..."

20 November, 2005 13:48  
Blogger Pamela said...

sorry, not able to get through your e-mail. I am the contact person for the glasses. I might be in Dubai for the VisionX convention in february . I was trying to think of what I could put together by then. I would be interested in offering my time to volunteer for the project. By the is Pamela. I will try your email again later.

21 November, 2005 00:54  
Blogger One Nine Seven One said...

Hello Pamela please send your details to zayed2k at hotmail. thanx

21 November, 2005 22:10  
Blogger JamieDubai said...

hey Guys- What did you find out about opening a charity quickly? I thought about the same thing today and I don't think it would be hard to get a shipment of donated eyeglasses from the US, but they would like to ship them to a charity, not just a random group of people...

Thanks, Jamie

07 December, 2005 16:29  

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