Handing out gratitude in Oman

Like its Gulf neighbors, Oman is heavily dependent on foreign workers, but it defies regional stereotypes when it comes to their treatment. 

Courtesy of Shorooq Abu Nasser
The iCare Initiative in Muscat, Oman, distributes cold water to foreign workers such as this one during the heat of the summer, when temperatures frequently reach 120 degrees F.

Much of the economic boom in Oman, where apartment blocs are rising from earth with impressive speed, is fueled by cheap labor from the Indian subcontinent. But unlike other Gulf countries, where these foreign workers are often downtrodden and sometimes forced to work without salaries, time off, or the ability to return home, Oman treats this crucial labor force better.

On a recent baking Arabian summer day, Mohamed al-Kitani, Sami al-Baloshi, and Assad al-Zakwani scour the streets of the capital for foreign laborers, handing out bottles of cold water and stopping to converse with them about their work and time in the country, where summer temperatures often reach 120 degrees F.

“When we find them and give them water, we explain this is from us, to thank you for all the work you are doing in the country,” says Mr. al-Kitani.

Al-Kitani and his colleagues are among 1,000 volunteers who work for The I-Care Initiative, a community project that began three years ago when Shorooq Abu Nasser, a Jordanian expatriate, decided to distribute water to outdoor workers improving the road in the area where she lived.

“The reason I started the initiative was very simple. I just wanted to thank [them] for working in the heat to make it easier for me to reach home, because I know I wouldn't do it myself,” she says. “I wanted to tell them that they are not invisible and that they are as important as any other working individuals.”

The group is part of a dynamic new civil society in Oman, with initiatives sprouting up across the country. This idea of civil society, while new, is especially attractive to young, globalized locals who can start projects close to their heart with little capital and soon grab the attention of bigger players.

“At the beginning, people were just buying water from their own money but now we are seeing big companies contact us and donate bottles,” says al-Kitani. At the last event, a local bank contributed nearly all of the 10,000 bottles of water that I-Care distributed that day.

Logistics for The I-Care Initiative are handled by nine Omani team leaders, including Amira Al-Rawahi, who say she was inspired to help out the cause when she returned home from studying abroad, feeling that foreign outdoor workers deserved more respect from the local community.

As al-Kitani puts it, “Distributing water is the least we can do.”

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