Volunteering — the art of giving!


My wife and I arrived late — ten minutes before the Maghreb prayer in the Prophet Mosque, in Madinah. Failing to find an empty space inside (it was a crowded Ramadan night), we stood waiting and looking for a suitable space at the grounds outside the Holy Mosque. Soon enough, a local came to us with a complete solution. He provided mats to sit and pray on. For our breakfasting, he offered dates, yogurt and bread, as well as, cold water, juice fruits and sweets. Others came with other kinds of homemade drinks and food. We had to say “no thanks” at the end, and pass some to neighbors — who exchanged their food, too, with us and others!

After the call for prayer, “adhan,” we feasted on the provided “iftar” and drank the coffee and tea other providers gave us. Within minutes, everything was cleaned up in most professional and efficient way. The place became ready, well before the start of prayers.

I had a similar experience in the Holy Mosque of Makkah. This time, we were invited to one of the thousands of free food mats organized by donors and volunteers. Old and young, even children, were competing to serve pilgrims and worshippers. Their eagerness to please was heart touching. You could feel the depth of their smiles as you accept their invitation or help.

Not just in the holy mosques, but everywhere, in ordinary mosques, traffic lights, streets, deserts and beaches, Saudis are enjoying serving others. They give with no wait for reward, except from Allah.

During Haj and Umrah, many doctors, nurses, engineers and professionals of all ages, and from all parts of the country, volunteer to serve.

When Jeddah was flooded twice in 2013 and 2014, tens of thousands of boys and girls came out to help, without an invitation! They provided transportation, food, drink, and helped traffic, civil defense and security forces. Once their presence was felt, requests for help were announced from hospitals, charities, municipalities and public departments.

Soon enough, they were organized under civic organizations, sponsored by corporations and supported by donors. Governor of Makkah region Prince Khaled Al-Faisal met with them and lent his support and guidance.

Today, volunteers are helping in many ways, and can be found in private and public spaces helping the disabled and disadvantaged, organizing and running mega events, cleaning up beaches and seas, guiding pilgrims and assisting elders, welcoming travelers in airports and entry points. They do that with infectious enthusiasm and warmth. You feel, as you receive, like you are the one giving. They couldn’t be happier for your gift of accepting their gifts!

These are just some examples of how Saudis act when needed. It is in their genes. For thousands of years, their ancestors have faithfully and generously served and provided for the Guests of the Most Merciful. Arab traditions of hospitality and Islamic teaching made them the natural providers and volunteers.

How do we make more of such a gift? The Saudi Vision 2030 has plans. It envisions a society that encourages volunteering works. Charities and non-profit organizations, as well as civic and state institutions are already absorbing lots of volunteers. So are cultural societies, sports clubs and social responsibility programs of banks and companies.

Success leads to more success. With the concept being now part of the grand vision for new Saudi Arabia, we need more programs and projects, more sponsors and donors, more encouragement from state departments, academia and the media.

It is not just about helping each other, volunteering is an act of civility and a concept of nationalism. We teach our people from early age how to love and express their love to country and society, how to be part of national growth and development, how to belong to, join with and participate in the grand vision and mission of realizing the future of their nation.

We need to instill the principles of voluntarism in the conscious of our people so each and everyone of us would act, on his/her own initiative, and in coordination with each other, to preserve our environment, improve our living conditions, protect our weak, support our under-privileged and advance our civilization. We should train, encourage, guide, embrace and absorb the brimming positive energy stemming from millions of volunteers and those wishing to participate. Non-Saudis, too, should be welcomed and celebrated. They are our full and appreciated partners.

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at kbatarfi@gmail.com. Follow him at Twitter:@kbatarfi