Charity event to raise Dh150,000 for slum dwellers

Maria Conceicao with the children. More than 1,500 people are expected to participate in the event and all the money raised on the day will go towards the Dhaka Project. (SUPPLIED)

A charity polo event in Dubai this April hopes to raise more than Dh150,000 for Dhaka's poverty-stricken slum dwellers.

The Dhaka Project, the NGO founded and run by Dubai-based Emirates airline flight attendant Maria Conceicao, hopes residents of the UAE will rally to its aid and help raise awareness of its goals at the Dhaka Project Polo Cup.

The tournament has been scheduled for April 16 at the Dubai Polo and Equestrian Club at the Arabian Ranches.

Portuguese national Conceicao launched the NGO in 2005 following a flight to the Bangladeshi capital, where she saw gut-wrenching poverty for the first time.

"Actually seeing small children begging on the streets was a huge shock," she has said. Thus motivated to help, she used her next vacation on a holiday to Dhaka and her foundation now works to support poor families and their children living in the sub-continental city's slums. It aims to educate children and to train adults to become self-sufficient, while providing short-term aid such as clothing, food and medical aid.

"This polo event allows a greater section of the community to participate and will help us raise a lot of money in order to reach our goal," Conceicao told Emirates Business.

Four of the emirate's top teams have already committed to competing for the Dhaka Project Trophy, including Seawings and Dubai Luxury Homes, she added.

The tournament kicks off at 2pm with a fun round of camel polo and families and children are invited to a casual, relaxed 'picnic style' afternoon.

More than 1,500 people are expected to participate and all the money raised on the day will go towards the project. "Ultimately, we want the Dhaka Project to be self sustainable and a portion of the money raised will go towards that. The majority of it will be used for pressing current needs such as warm clothing, better hygienic material, upkeep and maintenance of the school and basic necessities such as food and water," Conceicao said.

"Every dirham counts and has an immediate impact on the Dhaka Project so whatever we raise will go a long way in making the short term goals attainable."

Money permitting, she said she wanted to start building communal showers as well as open a job centre.

Conceicao's team has already helped the disadvantaged by finding men from Dhaka jobs here in Dubai. "These men are working at Emirates airline and the Le Meridien hotels and can now send money home to their families," she said.

"We are also in discussions with a school in Dubai who will offer six of the Dhaka Project schoolchildren a scholarship."

Support for the polo event has come from a local retail clothing company, which is providing all the shirts, and multiple anonymous businessmen and women have donated varying amounts of cash. That is in addition to help from Emirates airline, which has supported the cause since its inception.

Individuals and companies looking to help can donate anything from cash and clothing to children's amenities such as medicated shampoo, baby nappies and creams, Conceicao said. Volunteers are also welcome.

"This is a charity that benefits from even the most simplest of gestures, a pair of gloves will keep a child relatively warm to Dh1,000, which can put a roof over the heads of a family of eight. Anything and everything makes a difference," she said.

Long-term goals include raising $1 million (Dh3.67m) to buy a plot of land and build a facility in Dhaka to educate 1,000 children from primary school to university; to find ways to make both ventures financially self-reliant; to open a medical centre in the slums and to find jobs in the UAE for the adults.

Conceicao now wants to find families in Dubai and other countries willing to finance and host vacations for slum children to expose them to the world.

More information is available at (See also Page 40-41)


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