Abu Dhabi's female workers turn bookworms
Pocket romance novels are top of the reading list for the female workers already making use of a new library service.
The books are easy to carry, can be read in a day or two and their happily-ever-after stories bring relief from the not-so-romantic realities of living in women-only labour camps in Abu Dhabi.
Reading material handed out by volunteers from the Libraries For Labour Camps, a new group set up to take books to worker accommodation throughout the UAE, is helping to relieve boredom and improve reading skills of the female workers.
The facebook-led group is overseen by Rita Mayer, an expat from the US, who is encouraging people to donate books and organising teams to take them to the camps.
“It’s very difficult to find books in Hindu, Tagalog, Urdu and other languages, so those are especially welcome,” says Mayer.
The library is also helping workers to learn English.
“We have a special collection of books called ‘graded readers’ that are especially for adults,” says Mayer.
“If you look on our facebook page, you’re see the types of books we’re looking for, ones that encourage adult learning.” One private donor paid Dhs4,000 for the first batch of English language books for the workers and the group is drawing up a list of UAE bookshops that stock books in the native languages of workers.
Mayer has scoured Abu Dhabi looking for the right texts.
In Abela’s bookshop in Khalidiya, she found the ever-popular Tagalog books for a large group of Filipinas who live in the industrial Mussafah region. In Al Batra bookshop in Mushrif Mall, she found an even bigger collection - books, some for just Dhs6, in many different Asian languages.
After a talk with management, they agreed to set up a collection point in the shop so customers can buy books and donate them.
The group’s next trip will be to a male labour camp, where they will distribute books in Bangla, Hindi and Urdu. Mayer came upon the idea when she was working at a high school for Emirati girls. The cleaners were all Filipino and she wondered what their living conditions were like.
A few months later, a woman at her church said she was donating shampoo and clothes to low-paid workers and needed volunteers. Mayer signed up and asked the women what else they wanted. Books was one of the things. “It helps them feel connected,” she says.
Mayer adds: “I live in a nice building here. Labourers built it, they put in the pipes that give me running water and air conditioning, they also clean the building and take care of it.
“It’s about dignity and respect for those who have given us so much. It’s just a small gesture to show that we remember them and want to give back.”