The UAE is currently looking for thousands of AFC Asian Cup 2019 volunteers ahead of the biggest event sporting event to be held in the region. But what is the appeal for those who choose to help?
They are there in the background at every sporting event you visit, and they are there in their thousands. Always with a smile, they are there to help, focused on making your experience the best it can be.
Money? No, they don’t get paid, but if you ask them they will tell you they don’t do it for financial gain.
Easy work? Not really, they regularly work long shifts, often on their feet for hours.
Look closely and you’ll see them, just at arm’s length from VVIPs, the Royal dignitaries, managers, players, international journalists.
Who are they? They are the army of volunteers without whom no sporting spectacle can happen.
To the public, they are simply the smiling faces who show them to their seats but make no mistake they are the lifeblood of every major sporting tournament around the world.
But why do these often-unsung heroes do it?
Three people who believe they know are a trio of Emiratis who have already answered that question for themselves by responding to the call for help.
— #AsianCup2019 (@afcasiancup) August 8, 2018
One is a 26-year-old photographer, another a 37-year-old mother-of-three and entrepreneur and the last a 28-year-old senior engineer. Their lives are dramatically different, but all are united by their love of volunteering.
Majed Al Katheeri from Abu Dhabi, Alwazna Falah from Dubai and Noora al Hamood from Sharjah were helpers at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2017. Each had their own reasons for signing up, each faced different challenges, but each learned new skills and new confidence.
And, as the search hots up for AFC Asian Cup 2019 volunteers, each shares their feelings on why volunteering is important to them.
Alwazna Falah is 37 and combines caring for her three children with running her own online jewellery business and frequently volunteering at sports tournaments. At the FIFA Club World Cup, she worked within the Protocol Function as a supervisor, running the team who looked after VIPs and dignitaries throughout the tournament.
Describing herself as ‘sports mad’ Alwazna has been volunteering since her high school days.
“I think volunteering is in my blood, for me, it is everything because I’ve learned a lot. I learned how to be responsible in my life. It has taught me how to interact with people, how to control myself, how to give and be a kind person. I love that I can help people around through volunteering.”
During the Club World Cup, Alwazna met many famous people including ministers and professional sports stars, but she says that celebrity-spotting isn’t the reason she donates her time. Rather she is driven by a sense of duty to give back.
“We are very fortunate in this country with medical and educational support, so it’s nice to give back,” she says. “With my children, my friends, I try to encourage them to go through this experience. It good for themselves, for society and the country.”
Noora al Hamood’s life has few parallels to Alwazna’s. The 28-year-old holds a master’s degree in engineering, doesn’t have children, and works as a senior engineer in roads and services for Dewa.
However, she agrees with her fellow Emirati that volunteering offers a way to pay back the UAE for all the benefits it affords its citizens.
“I call it a duty,” she says. “I like to help people and encourage people and help each other. Without each other, we cannot live.”
At the FIFA World Cup Noora worked in as a supervisor in Venue Management, and since then has volunteered at the Special Olympics Mena Games in Abu Dhabi too.
“At the Club World Cup, my role was to be responsible for controlling the entertainment, going around the crowd, the players and the pitch to help cameras capture the best footage that we could show the crowds on the big screens.
“It was my first experience volunteering in football with FIFA. For me, it was a new experience, so much a passion. And when I saw my UAE team play and everybody screaming and cheering- I acted the same – I am not a football fan but I got swept up.”
Aside from getting to witness some of the action, and meeting stars such as Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo, Noora says volunteering at the tournament made her a better manager, learning how to motivate her team, how to deal with different types of people and how to build relationships.
Noora says the experience also helped break down barriers within her own family, who were initially reticent about her volunteering.
“After FIFA, and seeing how much I’d benefited from the experience, they appreciated it, it broke the ice for them. Now they are proud of me, and so are my friends. Now I encourage them. I say ‘come, only for a few hours, or one day’ and they come with me.
“You have to try it once, just once, and you’ll see, you love it.”
Professional photographer Majed, 26, who works for the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce, echoes the dual nature of the benefits of volunteering, with some being practical in his career and others being a deeply personal journey of growth.
Working within the Marketing and Media team at the FIFA Club World Cup Majed was responsible for media coordination, providing access and kits as well as supplying the media with food. He was also responsible for scheduling his team’s work shifts and sessions. Later in the tournament, he took on the lead role in the marketing function.
“The skills I developed through my participation as a volunteer are of great value to my personal development and because of that, I can confidently say that I have a valuable set of soft skills, which are important to have regardless what field or industry you work in.
“I studied Electric Engineering, hence, there weren’t really many similarities between my function and my expertise. It was difficult at the beginning, however, one of the major benefits of the experience was getting to know great and talented people from all parts of the world who speak different languages.
“I am a true believer that one can always learn something new from the people you meet. I acquired a new set of skills from the people I met and worked with. Two valuable things I learned is teamwork and coordination.”
For Majed meeting people from different nationalities went beyond learning new work skills, describing the team spirit he experienced as inspiring – something he hopes Asian Cup 2019 volunteers will also feel.
“It didn’t feel like an obligation or work, it felt like we were family, a brotherhood. People were very positive and cooperative with high morale, which made me feel proud to be a part of the team.
“The fact that each person you meet enlightens you in a different way, is what truly inspires me. If I were to put it in one word, my experience over the course of the tournament is indescribable.”
Asked if Majed has one message for those thinking about signing up as part of the team of AFC Asian Cup 2019 volunteers next year, he says: “I highly recommend and advise people to sign up.
“We are ambassadors for our country, and people visiting the UAE should feel that we work together to bring the best experiences.
ASIAN CUP 2019 VOLUNTEERS: HOW TO SIGN UP
Currently vacancies for AFC Asian Cup 2019 volunteers – via volunteers.ae – are in the areas of:
- Venue Management: be part of the teams which help the tournament come alive at stadiums and fan zones across the UAE
- Competition: you could be walking down the tunnel with the players, or making sure officials have what they need in the dressing room.
- Media: be part of that electric press conference or see the tournament close-up through journalists’ eyes
- Marketing: be an integral part of reaching out and bringing more fans to the tournament and be able to say you helped make it the biggest ever
- Protocol: perhaps you’ll be helping VVIPs make their way to the Royal Box for a key match
- Accreditation: the glue which binds the tournament together, ensuring everyone can be where they need to be.
The only real requirement is that would-be Asian Cup 2019 volunteers should be older than 16 and live registration sign-ups will take place at a major event on August 31 at Dubai Mall.
To be part of the biggest sporting team in the UAE’s history and become one of the AFC Asian Cup 2019 volunteers, pre-register as volunteers.ae