In the spirit of the season, a grassroots group of women in Qatar has launched a new gift-bag campaign this Ramadan to say thank you to fuel station attendants.
Under the title “Gratitude for gas station attendants,” the 15 women and their families have been delivering bags with essentials such as toiletries, t-shirts, sunglasses and sunblock to men working the petrol pumps in the midday heat at stations across the country.
Inside the bags are cards conveying thanks to the workers in English and Hindi, saying:
“Dear brother, please accept our humble gift in appreciation for all the hard work you do for us and our country. Best regards from your Qatari family.”
The initiative, which was first reported in Marhaba, was spearheaded by Shefa Ali, a Bahraini-Briton and long-term Qatar resident, who said she was inspired to action after she met a particularly friendly petrol station attendant one evening on her way home from work.
Ali, the head of healthcare marketing at Sidra Medical and Research Center, told Doha News that she had pulled up to a petrol station after a busy day just before Ramadan, and had been feeling frustrated with the heavy traffic.
Then one of the attendants “greeted me with such a great smile on his face, while he was standing there in the heat and humidity,” she recounted. The experience made her want to give back to the man and his colleagues, she said.
Ali is one of a group of more than a dozen women who got together prior to Ramadan to encourage and inspire one another through the holy month.
In addition to Ali, the group members include Mariam Al Khal, Fatima Al Emadi, Noor Al Naemi, Amal Al Kuwari, Aisha Al Thani, Wadha Al Marri and Fatima Al Ghanim.
“As part of our group, we had decided to do as much for charity during Ramadan as we could. After I met the gas station worker, I thought we needed to say thank you to these men.
Many people here feel the spirit of charity at Ramadan, and give money to a good cause. But we didn’t want to just give money – we wanted to give our time and thought to people,” Ali said.
The women mapped out all the petrol stations in Qatar and, in smaller groups, have bought bags and filled them with daily items including toothpaste, soap and hats.
This month, they have been delivering the bags to the attendants, so far handing out 60 bags over the week. They expect to hand over another 50 or more this week to all the workers there, regardless of their faith.
With a target of covering every fuel station in the country, the women have also enlisted the help of male relatives to visit stations further out of Doha.
“Those we have given the bags to have been surprised, but very grateful to get them. I went back to the attendant who first inspired me to do this, and explained to him how his smile had given me the idea for the initiative. Although he didn’t speak a lot of English, he looked pleased,” Ali said.
Ali is also encouraging other residents to take up the initiative, and involve their children and wider families to make their own packages and deliver them.
Those who would like a custom-made card to go with the bag can contact Ali directly at [email protected] to arrange for one.
“We just want to honor these hard-working men. We want to say that their work isn’t going unnoticed. We appreciated them standing there every day in the heat and humidity to help us and we don’t take them for granted.
It’s a wonderful privilege to have them work here and we want to thank them,” Ali added.
Among the items which are suggested to be included in the bag are:
- Caps and t-shirts;
- Toothbrush and toothpaste;
- Soap and shampoo;
- Sunglasses and sunscreen;
- Disposable razors; and
With awareness of the scheme spreading on social media, some residents have highlighted that a bigger boost to the fuel station workers would be for people to follow basic safety rules when having their vehicles filled up, such as switching off their engine and not using their mobile phone.
While there are signs up in petrol stations warning against these practices, a lack of enforcement means that they are still commonplace, which could be potentially dangerous for the attendants.
The group’s efforts echo a similar initiative to the annual Box Appeal, a charity drive usually held in September to collect toiletries and other essential items in boxes, which are then distributed to laborers.
While popular with many residents, the scheme has attracted controversy as some describe the handouts as undignified, and argue that employers should be responsible for either providing their staff with these essential hygiene items, or should pay workers enough money to enable them to buy them for themselves.
Ramadan in Qatar is traditionally a time when many residents undertake charitable endeavors to help those less fortunate, although the activities of some take place year-round.
Last summer, a Qatari family began stocking an outdoor fridge near the Chamber of Commerce at Muntazah signal off of C-Ring Road with water, juice, laban and bread for workers to help themselves.
Another volunteer-led campaign #WhatIWillDo aimed to support low income workers by encouraging residents to buy and distribute bottles of cold water to laborers around town.
Organized by the group See My Culture and local community news website JustHere, a video was made and released to promote the campaign to “spread some kindness,” one of its co-founders Khalid Al Hammadi said at the time.