By Bernd Debusmann Jr
More than 100,000 people have come forward hoping to fill the Expo's 30,000 volunteer slots
At first glance, one might be forgiven for assuming that gathering volunteers for Expo 2020 Dubai might be difficult. After all, unlike other mega-events such as the 2018 World Cup in Russia or the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo, Dubai cannot count on a massive population of citizens to lend a helping hand.
Dubai, however, has had the opposite problem: far more people – expats and Emiratis alike – have come forward than are needed.
“Right now, there are more than 100,000 expressions of interest to be one of 30,000 volunteers,” explains Abeer Al Hosani, the director of Expo 2020 Dubai volunteers. “Approximately 50 percent [of those interested] are Emiratis. However, there is tremendous interest from the expat community as well. We have applications from more than 160 nationalities including significant populations of expats from the UK, India and China.”
The volunteers – who range in age from 18 to 78 – include a high proportion of students and government employees, with motivations as diverse as the volunteers themselves. Some want to use the event to develop their skills, while others hope to meet the millions of visitors expected. Many, however, simply want to give back to the country they call home.
“Our volunteers will be the face of Expo 2020,” Al Hosani adds. “Their role is to ensure that every guest who visits the event has an amazing experience at the world’s greatest show and leaves with a smile on their face.”
Among the expatriates that have stepped forward to lend a helping hand at the Expo is Giuseppe Caron, a 46-year-old Italian national who moved to Dubai to be part of the construction of the Burj Khalifa in 2008. Over a decade later, Caron says he sees the event as a chance to give back to the country.
“For me, Expo 2020 is an opportunity to give back to the UAE after all the opportunities I’ve had as a resident who has spent 11 years here,” he tells us. “I enjoy living here, and the international nature of the event means I’ll get to share that by helping guide people around the event.”
“Their role is to ensure that every guest who visits the event has an amazing experience at the world’s greatest show”
Caron adds that part of his training for the Expo – which is in part being conducted by Dubai Police – will also allow him to use some of the professional skills he gained before he arrived in the UAE.
“I was a policeman in my past life, and know that preparation and dedication comes first in that line of work,” he says. “Dubai is known around the world for its police force, and that it uses the latest technologies to ensure safety. I’m excited about revisiting that role.”
Other volunteers, like Sun and Sand Sports CEO Rajan Israni, hope to bring their years of managerial experience to bear on making the Expo a success. After 14 years in the country, Israni says he’s ready to do whatever is required of him at the “once-in-a-lifetime event”, even if it takes him away from his day job for considerable periods.
“My core expertise is planning and management, but I am ready for any type of work that needs to be done, and to complete any duties and responsibilities assigned,” he explains. “If needed, I can devote two full days in a week.”
Although he has yet to be assigned a role, Israni adds that he sees his main task as making sure visitors feel welcome. That sense of welcome, he believes, will continue to draw people to Dubai long after Expo is over.
“I will treat all of Expo’s visitors as guests at my home,” he says. “We, residents of Dubai, are known to be hospitable, have a rich culture and are very welcoming. I’m sure these traits will make Expo 2020’s visitors return to Dubai and the UAE many times, and maybe, like me, make Dubai their home.”
At the heart of the Expo volunteer programme are its many Emiratis, eager to welcome the world to their home. Among them is Nouf Omar, a 22-year-old Emirates first officer and pilot. Omar’s interest in the event, she recalls, began when she first heard Dubai won the bid to host the Expo in 2013.
“There were celebrations at our school, although I still didn’t quite understand what hosting the World Expo meant,” she says. “But it’s when I was browsing the volunteer website that I realised it’s a once-in-a-lifetime celebration… how could I miss being part of it? I signed up immediately.”
In Omar’s case, her work for the Expo has already begun: she has been tasked with interviewing other would-be volunteers at the ‘House of Volunteers’, which she juggles with the demands of her job at Emirates. “I intend to dedicate my leave toward volunteering at Expo 2020,” she says. “I do the same right now as well, volunteering on my days off when I’m not flying.”
Like many volunteers, Omar identifies her primary motivation as showing the world what the UAE and Dubai mean to those who live and work here.
“[The event] means showing the world what lies behind the three letters ‘UAE’ and why we are one of the happiest nations in the world,” she explains. “I’m very proud as an Emirati, and to have the Expo 2020 hosted in the UAE is an overwhelming feeling.”
Omar’s feelings are echoed by Amal Al Farraji, a 40-year-old Emirati ‘person of determination’. “I decided to volunteer because I wanted to give back to my country. Expo 2020 Dubai represents a unique opportunity for us as Emiratis. This is the best opportunity to show how the UAE is reaching its goals, where its ambitions lie and how it plans to get here,” she says.
“I expect to get happiness. I want to spread happiness.”