In an effort to help alleviate the plight of several homeless Iranian men working as porters at Qatar’s Central Market, some 200 residents have rallied around a new campaign to support them.
The project, dubbed #SaveHamaalis on Facebook, was launched after a widely circulated Doha News report highlighted the hardships many of these elderly employees face, including a lack of adequate shelter and vulnerability to crime.
Speaking to Doha News, Kim Wyatt, a 47-year-old Australian expat and one of the group’s founding members, explained how the initiative took off:
“(After I read the story,) I went to visit the hamaalis, talk to them and hear their personal stories. They are old, frail, homeless and poor.
Two days later, one of the worst sandstorms in recent years hit Qatar and I think the whole community felt a little vulnerable during that night. In the morning, I heard that hamaali Mansour had died during the storm. He had slept outside during the night. He was also crippled and asthmatic. I had only met him a few days earlier.”
Wyatt said she then put out a Facebook request asking people to spread the word about the hamaalis’ situation. At that point, several residents asked how they could help.
“So in direct response to that, I created the Facebook group #SaveHamaalis to provide a forum for positive discussion and action to save the hamaalis and to provide the essential necessities for living.”
‘Now we’re seen’
Together, the group has collected and donated mattresses, pillows, bedding, toiletries, clothes, shoes, cutlery, soap, phone cards, fans and medications for all seven men.
Speaking to Doha News, Abdullah, a 75-year-old hamaali, said the response has been overwhelming.
“People have been coming here everyday, talking to us, asking us how we’re doing, and helping us. We are so grateful. For years people have just passed us by, and now, we’re suddenly seen. We want to thank everybody who’s thought of us. We are humbled by this support,” he said.
Donations aside, the group is also hoping to help the men secure sustainable regular medical care, housing and food.
A week ago, one of the group’s members organized a private free health screening, where the men, most of whom have diabetes, arthritis, and other joint pains, were examined and given medication.
The group has also set up a food donations tab at a restaurant in the Central Market, where members can donate toward the mens’ QR25 daily food bills.
Fueled by this spark of attention, Abdullah and his friends have also begun to take action. Last week, they set out to look for affordable accommodation in surrounding areas.
“We couldn’t find a place where we can all live together. There’s nothing nearby. Everything is full, or people want only families to live. So we asked people we knew in Musherib, near the (Mercure) Hotel.
And we have found space! Friends and their friends have agreed to give us places in their homes. Two are near the market, and five of us, inshAllah, will live in the city,” he said.
To help the hamaalis pay for rent, the group has reached out to the Zakat Fund, a national charity overseen by the government that is dedicated to helping the needy, and are awaiting its response.
In the coming months, organizers of the group hope to expand their operations to help hamaalis at the Souq Waqif, Irani Souq and other establishments. Wyatt said:
“I hope to see #SaveHamaalis continue to grow and develop to help others in need and hopefully work with the Qatar government to tackle other aid projects in Qatar.
Looking at what we have completed in one week imagine what we could complete in one year? Hopefully, we (can) also indirectly given them back some sense of their own human dignity.”
Those who want to contribute to #SaveHaamalis can get in touch with organizers via the campaign’s Facebook page.
Donations being sought include clothes and bedding. The group is also working to obtain health cards for the men, and regular medications they need for their conditions.
“The people of Qatar have shown that they care and that they want to help. I think it’s time that the world hears positive stories from Qatar and realizes that there are people here who do want to create change and see results,” Wyatt said.