Players, coaches and staff from Dubai Exiles visited labourers in Dubai last Friday, handing out club kit, balls, food parcels and even Cornettos to some of the unsung heroes of the Emirates.
In a fantastic community initiative, around 50 club members spent a few hours playing games with over 1,000 labourers based in Al Quoz.
First-team player Durandt Gerber, a former Italy A international, came up with the idea after noticing that huge amounts of old club jerseys and balls were lying around in storage at Exiles’ home at The Sevens after the club switched sponsors this season.
Gerber, Matt Richards, Kristian Stinson and Stephen Ferguson were just some of the senior players in attendance, as well as head coach and director of rugby, Jacques Benade, who called it a “magic” day.
“It’s nice to say thanks to some of the guys who make life out here for most people the way it is,” said Benade.
“We have a few boys at the club at the moment, not in the same situation, but perhaps not earning big figures of money. I think it’s nice for the club to appreciate things like this.
“It wasn’t about us giving out free stuff, it was about spending time with these guys, chatting to them, appreciating how difficult life is here for them with working conditions and living away from home, and appreciate what we have ourselves.
“A lot of the boys found it a humbling experience. It was just a magic day.”
Benade paid tribute to fly-half Gerber who worked hard to turn his own idea into a reality.
Benade added: “It’s unbelievable how much old equipment we’ve had lying around in the stores. Our contract with Canterbury ran out and Durandt said ‘there’s so much stuff here, wouldn’t it be great to go out and visit the labour camps’, so he jumped on that and he did a brilliant job.
“They’re just the same as us, here working trying to make a bit of money and maybe send some home, it’s just we live in a lot more luxury than them.
“The guys really appreciated it too and it’s unbelievable how well mannered they are.”
Perhaps not accustomed to much rugby on the sub continent, players and labourers even joined in with an impromptu volleyball match using rugby balls, and it is something Benade said the club is looking to make a regular thing.
“It turned out to be a two-three hour session, they had a volleyball game with the rugby ball too so that was brilliant,” said Benade.
“As a club we try to support as many charities as we can and it’s something we’ll be looking to do again.
“We’re also trying to help at non-playing rugby schools and maybe lend some coaching to them. Not everyone is in a position to come up to The Sevens and train at weekends.
“I think it made a big difference to them and I just hope it just raises a bit of awareness and we can do maybe two or three more events like this throughout the year.”
With expat life in the UAE often well-paid and glamorous, flanker Matt Mills said everyone enjoyed giving a little something back.
“It was really good, humbling and levels you out from the life in Dubai,” said Mills.
“The boys really enjoyed it, it was a great turn out from all different clubmen and women.
“The labourers really got involved too, really enjoyed the simple games we played. I think they just enjoyed being silly as they don’t get much of a chance to let loose.
“It was great to get that many men throwing a rugby ball around too as for many of them it was their first time. Very humbling.”