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Celebration of Service

IBM Volunteer Helps the Invisible Workers of Dubai

In the UAE, Mugurel Florea and others work for better lives for migrant workers

In the early 21st century, Dubai, located in United Arab Emirates (UAE), became one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, driven by large-scale construction and megaprojects -- including the tallest skyscraper in the world, the $1.5 billion, 2,723-foot Burj Khalifa, and the world's largest artificial archipelagos, the Palm Islands. In 2006, one-fifth of the world's cranes were said to be at work in Dubai among an estimated $100 billion in construction projects.

But one of the inconvenient truths of Dubai’s growth is the human cost of the opulent construction projects. More than a quarter million migrant workers performing exhausting work for low pay live in squalid conditions in labor camps, sending almost all of their earnings to their families back in home countries.

Upon coming to Dubai from Vienna in 2009, IBM Maintenance and Technical Support Specialist Mugurel Florea took notice of the migrant workers toiling to build the legendary city.

“Just a few miles away from luxurious hotels, restaurants and lifestyles, there are people living in barracks, in unbearable heat and very poor conditions,” Mugurel says. “I saw them on the street and in the construction sites, and I decided to go and help. I wanted to see with my own eyes how these people live, although I knew that once I did that I would never be able to go back to my old life and pretend this doesn’t exist.”

Mugurel was forwarded a note from Saher Shaikh, a woman looking for help in the form of donations and volunteers, to assemble care packages for the labor camp workers. Saher had started the nonprofit organization Adopt-A-Camp in 2005 after meeting a labor camp worker at a supermarket checkout and helping the man pay for his purchases. Since its start, Adopt-A-Camp had carried its mission to meaningfully improve the lives of labor camp workers to 38 camps and more than 12,000 workers.

Mugurel volunteered, and began to raise money for Adopt-A-Camp. Since 2009, he has raised more than $30,000 in donations from IBM employees. And this year, he strived to get IBM employees and their families involved in Adopt-A-Camp personally, not just financially.

During the IBM centennial year, Mugurel reached out to some of his colleagues in Dubai --Suzana Obradovic, Dennis Kight and Ralph Renaux – and they used their own networks to find volunteers for an Adopt-A-Camp "Care Packages for Labor Camp Workers" event.

“When recruiting IBM volunteers we told them the truth,” Mugurel says. “It is a powerful experience to put in a care package a steel plate, a cup, a toothbrush, and anti-lice liquid ...items one would think that everyone can afford, but it is not the case.”

They signed up 20 IBM volunteers, then 25, then 30, and then began to rally to get 100 volunteers so they could apply for an IBM Catalyst Grant. They rallied managers and executives to the cause.

At a care package event in August 2011, 135 IBM volunteers joined more than 1,200 others to put together more than 3,000 care packages. IBM employees also raised more than $3,000 in donations to fund the event.

In addition to the care packages, Adopt-A-Camp has created and carried out initiatives such as providing for the workers a Web portal to the Ministry of Labour, hygiene workshops at the camps, English classes, pro bono medical treatment, counseling sessions and a scholarship fund.

Catalyst Grant will open doors for workers

An IBM Catalyst Grant awarded to Adopt-A-Camp will provide funds to create a scholarship program that will extend Adopt-A-Camp’s English classes for labor camp workers until the end of 2012, and cover the associated costs of the classes – books, stationery, a video projector, pens, paper, exam fees and diplomas. Approximately 135 workers will benefit from the IBM scholarships, learning English and increasing their salary potential, job opportunities and opening the door for a new start in life.

Throughout 2012, volunteers from IBM will work with Adopt-A-Camp to build a Web site, and provide consulting services to make task allocation, volunteer management, and materials management at Adopt-A-Camp volunteer events more efficient.

“My personal hope is that we make at least a one degree difference in the lives of these labor camp workers,” Mugurel says. “That by providing them the necessary things for whatever decent life they can have in a labor camp, they can regain their humanity and smile, even if for just a day. Through the IBM Scholarship and the English classes, I hope that we are going to give the chance to a worker to earn more than he does currently and thus have a better life – but more importantly show to all the workers in camps that there is a hope. With hard work, with motivation, with drive to learn – good things can happen to them.”

IBM is marking its centennial year with a worldwide celebration of volunteer service. Throughout 2011, IBM invites everyone to join our global community of employees, retirees, families and friends as we support the communities where we work, live and learn together.