Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Dar Al Atta'a - Muscat Confidential's Nominated charity. An interview with Lubna Al Kharusi

Muscat Confidential's advertising revenue all goes to charity. Our nominated charity of choice is an Omani NGO called Dar Al Atta'a.

Just to make sure, we asked Board Member Lubna Al Kharusi to answer a few questions about the charity; it's work, funding, problems, and the roles played by individuals, companies and the Government.

Even if you don't read the interview, go give money to Dar Al Atta'a. It's a good cause, and no public donations are used to administer the charity: all donations go 100% to help people. This is because Corporate donations fund all the admin costs. Neat model.

And of course, advertising on Muscat Confidential also goes 100% to those in need.

So here's the interview. I urge you to read what she has to say about demographic trends and unemployment at the end. And don't forget to enter the free Hi!FM giveaway to see Sir Tom Jones. It's not unusual, is it?

Muscat Confidential: Thanks for talking to us about the charity, Lubna. First up: What is Dar al Atta'a?

We are a non profit charity organisation that was formed in 2002. It started with a group of friends who wanted to help the poor in Oman by asking our family for donations to get things rolling. We formally registered the Charity in 2006 with the Ministry of Social Development so that we would be able to officially fundraise as well as organise events, hire staff and get properly set up to cater to the needs of the underprivileged. We cater to anyone who is poor in the Sultanate, of course our focus is on Omanis, however we have helped some expatriates as well.

Our main programs are:
1. The family care program: We provide aid to under-privileged families by helping them meet basic needs such as food, shelter and clothing.
2. The school program : This program provides uniforms, school supplies, books and nutritious meals to needy children as well as scholarships for higher education.
3. Hospital program : This program focuses on organizing entertainment activities for sick children at various hospitals. In addition to this, we also donate toys to the children’s wards at hospitals.

Other activities include the Let's Read! campaign, distribution of Zakat, Ramadan rations, Eid gifts, and distribution or sale of pre-used goods and clothing.

Something we are also looking at for the future is a micro-grant program for entrepeneurs, farmers etc whereby we will give grants to help people run or establish micro-businesses.

Muscat Confidential: What is your role at Dar al Atta'a?

I am a Board member, we are 8 on the Board. Mariam al Zadjali is the Chairperson (and the brainchild of Dar al Atta'a). As board members we pretty much do everything, though of course we each have specific responsibilities, like Eman Al Wahibi is the Vice Chair, Nada al Jamaly looks after the Family Care Program, Shatha Abass looks after Events, Sameera Sultan looks after the School Care Program, Rana Dabos looks after Membership & Volunteers, Ekhlaas Al Hashmi looks after Media and Promotions and i'm the Treasurer. We all help each other out. We also have some permanent staff and have just hired a new manager and accountant. Furthermore, the volunteers help out a lot when we have events or during peak times like Ramadan, Eid or before the school term begins.

MC: What are the challenges you face running Dar al Atta'a?

As any organisation we have some areas that require improvement, the first is our utilisation and communication with our members and volunteers and that is why we just elected Rana to be in charge of Membership and Volunteers. We would like to ensure full utilisation of volunteers and members and are therefore putting a program in place that will manage this.

The other issue we face is that charity organisations are a new concept to Oman, and therefore the mindsets need to be made ready for the idea of volunteering time, giving donations and trusting that their money will be utilised in the correct manner. It hasn't become 'fashionable' yet in Oman to be involved with community service, and people should be aware that even for the distribution of zakat and sadaqah, Dar Al Atta'a is an organisation they can rely on to distribute on their behalf.

MC: Of the funding you receive, what % is used running the charity and the management of the projects, vs the % that actually makes it to individuals and families in need?

100% of all the donations from individuals either through their bank accounts, cheques, cash donations or in the money boxes are used to help the needy. We finance our operating costs through corporate sponsorship, and usually the money needs to first be raised before we spend the money so for example all our staff costs are paid by a corporate sponsor. Money raised at events usually covers the cost of the actual event and that equates to usually less than 10%.

MC: Apart from making cash donations, how can readers of Muscat Confidential best help you? Is there anything you specifically need?

Tell all your friends about us and what we do. Come to our office and visit, volunteer your time. If you work for a company, convince your employer to donate to us either cash or goods and materials.

Do your spring cleaning and clear out your closet and home and donate to us whatever is in good condition, we collect anything and everything that can be used by someone else or sold. Furniture, clothing, books, toys, computers.

Convince your employer that they should have an HR scheme whereby employees can elect for an automatic deduction from their salary that goes to Dar al Atta'a and the Employer matches that contribution.

Send us your ideas. There are so many people who need your help.

You can contact us on 24692996, fax 24692044. our office is opposite the Pakistani Embassy in MSQ on Al Bashaer Road villa 119. email: info@daralatta.com

MC: I see you now have donation boxes in the supermarkets. Does this generate a significant amount of sponsorship money?

Yes, it is a fantastic source of fundraising, we have 400 boxes currently out and on average each one collects about RO 30 per month. People may not realise this but their spare change really makes a difference, each box almost covers one family's food rations in a month (to feed a family it costs us RO 35 per month), so please everyone keep giving us your spare change and encourage your friends to do the same. As mentioned 100% of the proceeds from those boxes goes to help families.

MC: I noticed for a while they weren't there. What's the story behind that??

Yes, the Ministry stopped these collection boxes so that regulations could be established around how they are managed. We at Dar al Atta have always given 100% raised in these boxes to charity and manage them using our office PRO whose salary is covered through corporate sponsorship of our operating expenses.

MC: Do you provide services to battered or abused women? If so, how can they seek your assistance? If not, do you know who does?

We currently do not offer psychological counseling, however we can help in other ways and have done so in the past.

MC: How many children and families did you help in 2009, and how?

We have an audited annual report that gives further details, but the highlights are:
New houses built - 6 ,
upgrades to existing homes 12
families sponsored - 84
Ramadan rations - 1666 families
School uniforms and stationary 3087 students,
daily school meals 655,
university and college scholarships full 29, partial 9

MC: Do you assist expats in need? If so, how?

Yes! Our focus is on Omanis, but we do help expatriates primarily in the distribution of pre-used items.

MC: Is there anything the Government could do to make it easier for Dar al Atta'a to be more effective?

The key thing that would make a difference today is online donations. The Government of course wants to control money laundering, and money donated online can come from anywhere in the world etc. At the moment the Ministry of Social Development has a website that represents all the local charities and you can donate online through their website, but we haven't received any money from their site to date. We would really prefer if donations could be made through our site, if they want to control money laundering they can set limits as to how much an individual can donate online via our site.

MC: Were you impacted by the economic downturn? Have you noticed any change in the demand for your services following the global downturn?

In Oman we did not really feel the economic downturn as much as other countries, we were still able to fundraise a similar levels to prior years, and the demand for our services is mostly a function of demographics, all those young kids who grow up not finding jobs, not being able to afford going to school. We have a young population and job creation is critical, and the need for an organisation like Dar Al Atta'a is there regardless of a financial crisis. At the moment as an organisation we give food rations which could be seen as handouts, but really they are an interim solution, our real objective is to empower people and help them change their situation for the better, through education, through job placements, through better living conditions, through possiblely in future giving micro-grants. We cannot ignore the poor and their current status, but we also shouldn't assume that their status is permanent, we have to help them improve their lives as a community.

The MONE publishes annual statistical bulletins and as of the 2009 bulletin the Omani population at the end of 2008 was estimated to be 1.97 million. Out of which about 47% are between the ages of 20-60 resulting in about 0.93 million employable Omanis.

According to the Ministry of National Economies monthly statistics (Feb 2010) 161,406 Omanis are working in the private sector, of which more than 67% earn less than RO 180 per month and more than 85% earn less than RO 300 a month. In addition (as of 2008 statistical bulletin) 116,154 Omanis worked in the Government sector and 8,251 work for government corporations like SQU, Omantel etc.

Considering that the private sector employs about 162,000 and the Government about 125,000, (totaling 287,000 employed Omanis) we are left with a substantial number (643,000 Omanis - about 70% of employable Omanis) who either are self employed entrepreneurs or are unemployed, of course a significant number are women who stay at home, but even if every woman not working chose to stay at home (so divide by 2 = 321,500), these self employed/ unemployed persons would account for about 35% of the Omani population between 20-60 years old. Furthermore, the Omani population is very young, so these youngsters will be in the job market for many years to come and it is critical that something is done to increase employment opportunities, promote entrepreneurship and to enable these people to lead productive lives. The government provided 48,462 (in 2007) with social welfare, which predominantly went to widows, the disabled, orphans, senile, and divorced women. Who is helping the rest?

Aside from employment, housing is another pressing issue. According to the 2003 census, out of the 430,996 households in the Sultanate, 13.6% are improvised housing such as tents, shacks etc (thats almost 60,000 households). In addition the average household size is 8 persons, whereby over 33% are 10 persons and above. Up until the end of 2007, the Government had granted 4,587 housing units to the poor predominantly in Al Sharqiyah and in Al Wusta region, where in Al Wusta almost 67% of the population live in improvised housing. In addition, the government in 2007 provided RO 4,825,809 in loans for low cost housing and RO 6,191,065 in low cost housing grants.

This is not enough, and the Government cannot be expected to solve all the problems, and they need to prioritise the neediest cases. That is where an NGO like Dar al Atta'a comes in, where we help people who would not be helped by the Government in the near future and meet our eligibility criteria.

But the number of people we can help is dependent on how much we can raise from the public, so everyone can make a difference.

Awesome. Thanks very much Lubna. Muscat Confidential is pleased to be a supporter of Dar Al Atta'a.

By the way, I'm sure someone out there can help them professionally update their website - for free, obviously. They would appreciate the assistance, and, lets face it, you'd be helping children, children who desperately need your help. Make a difference.

And send them money. Email them and they will send you a form. It's easy.

Remember: You can contact Dar Al Atta'a on 24692996, fax 24692044. The Dar Al Atta'aoffice is opposite the Pakistani Embassy in MSQ on Al Bashaer Road villa 119.

email: info@daralatta.com


  1. Thanks MC for posting this. Really interesting.

    And the HR scheme is so simple and easy to implement, a FANTASTIC idea!

  2. I've been watching Dar Al Atta's activities for quite a while. I admire the work these women are doing, and I pray one day that a branch is opened in Salalah. So many women are ready to volunteer and help. They have so much energy, and if we could only find ways to channel this energy, a lot could be done.

    We'll try to see if we can set up donation boxes at supermarkets in Salalah. They would definitely help with the centre for children with special abilities and needs.

    Thanks for a great post.

  3. Good, warm, strong post. And I notice your first ad (or have there been others and I've been away just too long?) I am glad it goes to charity :)
    I am going to tweet the website designer need. let's see if someone comes forward.

  4. Great Topic, Contribution should be given. But they find those people whom they help, is there a way or people has to approch them

  5. Dar Al Attar does some excellent work, so my comment is not intended to detract from that and no doubt, that work deserves support. However, personally I have supported other charities over them ever since they refused to give water to expatriates at a handout during Gonu, saying that the water was only for Omanis. In my book it is wrong to refuse water to any human being, even your enemy.

  6. Thank you for your comments and suggestions.
    to respond to the queries, most of the people we help are referred to us though a govt body such as MOSD, Wali offices, schools, however we are open to anyone coming to us, provided they are open to us investigating their case in order to ensure they meet our criteria.
    With regards to Gonu, I am surprised that expatriates were not given water, we had hundreds of volunteers who were under extreme pressure to help thousands of people, it is NOT our policy to not help expatriates - we are there to help the neediest of people, and it is possible when briefing our volunteers we were not clear on what that meant. Insha Allah we take this as a learning, and thank you for the feedback.

  7. Dear Lubna,

    I think as an Omani you should have been more careful before you associated yourself and Dar Atta organization with blog like UD. Some of the things he write and post are in my opinion not always agree with our religion and Omani culture. There is systematic preach of anything that is non-islamic and sometime insulting our society.

    There is no need for charity organization to have its name mingled with controversial blog like UD. It gives him a great boost of legitimately he does not deserve.

    As a muslim and Omani I ask you kindly to go through posts of this blog and ask yourself would you agree with his infidel lifestyle to become the norm in our country Oman?


  8. The chairperson of Dar Al Atta, Ms Maryam is Times of Oman chairman's Mr Essa Al Zedjali's daughter. I hope you dont change your views now.

  9. Al Mamari
    I'm sure one of the biggest problems faced by the charity is the unwillingness of 'Omani Culture' to discuss real problems such as poverty and disability. When's the last time you did work for charity?

    Of course I knew that! She is doing good work. Her relatives don't change that.

  10. UD

    I think the fact that you don't speak arabic and also in general western expatriates lack of interest in learning arabic is a major factor in you missing out of a lot of what's really going on and how our society function. I will never be expert and speak out about french people if I don't speak a word of French ! I can however fool some people who don't know the French very well and feed them all sorts of shit about France and French people !!!!

    Clear example is your comment " unwillingness of 'Omani Culture' to discuss real problems such as poverty and disability " as if we are less humans than you are... please That qualifies for racist remark about us Omanis.

    It's your problem that you don't speak or read in Arabic to fully comprehend what's going on around you in Oman so stop accusing us of all sorts of things and start to have some respect for our religion, culture and way of life.


  11. Al Mamari

    So I presume that's a 'no' on the charity question then...

    But nice to see you resort to the ad hominem 'racist' slur. LMAO

  12. How sad that this post has turned into a slanging match. Shame on you, Al Mamri, you could just as easily email the director of Dar Al Atta with your thoughts. Dar Al Atta is a wonderful chariyy, and deserve all the support they can get.

  13. my friends n me, r planning to collect money for the poor by going to every house in our locality n v r palnning to give the collected money to ur organisation. hope u guys would help us by giving us permission...thnx..by isha and niloufer


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