Here’s how you can give back in Abu Dhabi

In today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to forget how to give back but we’re reminding you to pause and lend a helping hand. Volunteering is good for the soul and your local community, so here is how you can get involved and pay it forward… 


The UAE government is committed to building a tolerant, compassionate society but it is members of society who have to make it happen. Between work life and family life, you might feel like you’ve got nothing left to give, but sometimes all we need is a little motivation… and little help from a friend. In one Abu Dhabi community, that is precisely how one good deed has turned into many.  

Paws for thought  

Three friends – Arlene McGregor, Gill Dow and Tamara Donelly – are well known for their volunteer efforts to control the stray cat population within the Al Rayyana community. Together, they manage the Al Rayyana Rescues Facebook group, which was started by Arlene, a high spirited fitness trainer who travels around the city with a big bag of cat nibbles stowed among the various barbells and kettlebells in the boot of her car.  The trio came together naturally through a cause they’re all passionate about – helping animals in need.  

 “Our overall aim is to control the current population of cats within the community to ensure a healthy and sustainable colony. We do this by rehoming and TNR [Trap-neuter-return],” says Gill Dow, a British primary school teacher.  

TNR is a method for attempting to humanely and effectively manage free-roaming domestic cats. To carry out these initiatives, the ladies primarily use
their own money and resources with help from the community.  

 “The support I offer varies depending on what cases present themselves. Currently, I feed and foot any veterinary bills for cats that need treatment, including TNR, as well as foster on a temporary basis,” she continues.    

The group offers a cat sitting service for community residents in exchange for support and they are happy to help others arrange financial support for anyone wishing to help a stray in need.  

Aside from the positive effects for stray kitties like when one overcomes major health issues or finds a new forever home, doing good has a wider impact on the community too. This is most evident for Tamara, a British secondary school teacher, whose school has a feeding station to care for the small, stable group of strays nearby. She also says that if people want to help, they can. Just stop, look around and then act.  

She suggests that people, “recognise the problem. The minute I landed [in the UAE] in 2013, I was shocked that such an affluent place had so many stray animals – cats and dogs. It’s just getting worse. Vets offer discount TNR to help stabilise the population. It would be great to see more people take part in this initiative, even sponsoring one TNR would help massively.” 

Whether it’s rescuing stray cats or rolling up your sleeves to tackle another problem, immerse yourself in a cause you’re passionate about by taking action and you can make a difference. Chances are it will have a multiplier effect and inspire others to pitch in too. 

Lead the way


Through its many organisations that engage in community service initiatives, the UAE government is paving the way towards a culture underscored by humanitarian efforts and here’s how you can get involved…  

 National Volunteer Organisations 

The UAE has a national portal to ensure that volunteering in the UAE has a maximum social impact across all seven Emirates. Through this central platform, regulations are established to support volunteers and ensure that they can operate easily. Essentially, the portal aims to grow the UAE volunteer community by helping people match their skills and competencies with volunteer opportunities. Registered volunteers can specify interests and availability, while entities with volunteering needs can post vacancies. This humanitarian matchmaking of sorts helps to bring both ends of the volunteer spectrum together to maximise the impact people can have. Visit:  

The Volunteer Department at UAE Red Crescent Authority aims to attract volunteers and engage them in activities that support the community through social, cultural and economic means. Volunteers are welcome as individuals or as part of secondary groups and volunteer roles span three categories: Student Crescent, which includes students from elementary to secondary levels, University Crescent – students of colleges, institutes and universities and Volunteers which involves all members of society. The Red Crescent Authority also develops volunteering programs throughout the community to bring awareness to the importance of humanitarian aid. Visit:

Abu Dhabi Initiatives 


We Are All Police is a volunteer initiative of Abu Dhabi Police which aims to broaden its communication and engagement within the local community. Through this programme, volunteers are given comprehensive, professional training to further enhance the safety and security of the emirate. Training courses as part of the programme include first aid, crisis and disaster management, dealing with diversity, writing reports, problem-solving, public speaking and organising events and activities. Furthermore, We Are Police volunteers serve as a vital link between police officers and the general public to help identify and solve a variety of issues on a daily basis. Applicants from all backgrounds and nationalities currently residing in Abu Dhabi are encouraged to apply. Visit:   

 The Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT) Volunteer Program is a platform for DCT Employees, their family members and the community to engage in volunteering opportunities through departmental projects and initiatives on an as-needed basis. The platform works in conjunction with, which offers hundreds of volunteer opportunities throughout Abu Dhabi and the UAE. Visit:  

Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC), part of the SEHA HealthSystem, which is responsible for managing and developing public hospitals and clinics throughout Abu Dhabi, welcomes volunteers to supplement the work of staff members. Hospital volunteers provide non-medical support to patients and their families through educational initiatives like language classes and reading books as well as entertainment like playing musical instruments or hosting a movie night. Other services like arts and crafts, nail art and face painting are other great ways in which volunteers raise patient’s spirits. Volunteers are also needed to perform tasks like conducting surveys, confirming appointments, data entry and filing – it may not sound like the most glamorous work but it can have a direct and lasting effect. SKMC volunteers need to be at least 16 years old, in good mental and physical health and able to commit to a minimum of five hours per week and 20 hours each month. Contact:, 

Share a Smile  


Operation Smile Photo – Peter Stuckings

Operation Smile UAE, works to ensure that no child suffers from a lack of access to safe surgery. Its volunteers travel the globe to help children in need, a call to action that Abu Dhabi residents respond to with fervour. To date, the organisation has provided more than 240,000 free surgeries for children and young adults born with cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities.

 “Without our many volunteers, Operation Smile would not be able to help as many patients as we do,” says Morag Cromey-Hawke, executive director of Operation Smile UAE. 

“We rely on medical volunteers to perform the surgeries and care for the patients. We rely on community volunteers to spread awareness and participate in our fundraising events and we rely on student volunteers to educate the public on what Operation Smile does, as well as the medical conditions we treat. Our volunteers create a chain reaction and we need all of them to create impact.”  


Thanks to its volunteers, Operation Smile UAE has just held its third mission in the UAE, at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, where 30 patients were screened and more than 10 surgeries were performed on cleft palates and lips.  

You don’t have to be medically trained to help. For instance, Operation Smile counts on students to help bring as many smiles as possible to children across the world by building awareness, raising funds and educating others on this cause.  Students can get involved by establishing Operation Smile clubs in their schools or participating in fundraising events and awareness campaigns, while there are many opportunities for members of the community to help spread smiles too. 

And volunteering is good for you too! Studies show that volunteering helps people who donate their time to feel more socially connected, helping to ward off loneliness and depression among many other benefits.

Morag knows this firsthand noting the positive feedback she’s received from interns and volunteers. Some have gained increased professionalism and felt that volunteering inspired leadership, while others have said, “volunteering inspired me to be the best ambassador I can possibly be.”  

To learn more about Operation Smile, make a donation or get involved, visit: 

By Tamara Clarke

Posted in Features | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By joining our mailing list you agree to our Terms & Use and Privacy Policy

Get the best of Abu Dhadi straight to your inbox