Moved by the UAE’s care and generosity for expats like her, Sheena Honasan felt it’s her time to give back to her second home for 12 years. This Pinay teacher rolled up her sleeves to join tens of thousands of volunteers for the forthcoming Expo 2020 Dubai.
Honasan and hundreds of other Filipinos now form part of the UAE’s largest volunteer program that’s dedicated for the first World’s Fair hosted by an Arab country. They serve as the faces and heart of the six-month long Expo who would guide millions of visitors starting October 1.
“Ito ang paraan ko para maibalik ang pasasalamat sa bansang ito, kung saan nahubog ang pagkatao ko. [This is my way of giving back for this country that molded me.] I love doing voluntary work and it’s an opportunity to gain experience and skills. Huwag palampasin ang oportunidad na ito dahil sa madami kang madidiskubre at matututunan [Don’t miss out this opportunity where you can discover and learn a lot],” Honasan told The Filipino Times.
The volunteers were assigned to various daily Expo-related activities of country pavilions, weekly visits of school teams, as well as event ceremonies, protocols, and technology support. Hence, they are called ‘the heartbeat of the Expo’.
His Highness Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence and Commissioner-General of Expo 2020 Dubai, said: “The commitment of the Expo 2020 Volunteers has never wavered, even when faced the challenge of a pandemic. We are grateful for their passion and dedication, rooted in an understanding of what Expo 2020 is capable of achieving. With their support, Expo 2020 is ready to fulfil its mission of creating a better future for people and planet, in the UAE and across the globe,” said His Highness Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak.
The 30,000-strong volunteer workforce consists of 45% UAE nationals and 55% expats from over 135 nationalities.
History in the making
All flights from across the globe now lead to the glittering city of Dubai to witness a history in the making. Expo 2020 is the biggest event that has ever been held in the Middle East and it embraces the UAE’s dreams of progress and harmony for the world in the post-COVID-19 era.
The numbers alone inspire wonder and awe — 192 nations are participating, each with their own pavilion; the venue, which measures 4.3 sq km, is like 613 football fields; and 60 live events to be held every day.
John Robinson Leonardo, a Dubai-based accountant for the past seven years, will be part of the guest services team—the first point of contact of visitors—at the Sustainability Pavilion.
Although his assignment as volunteer will start in February to March next year, he could no longer contain his excitement. He told TFT: “If you are given a chance to volunteer, grab it. Cliche as it is, but opportunity knocks only once. I’m blessed to be chosen as one of their volunteers. I really want to be part of UAE’s history. For me, it’s also an amazing opportunity to experience and witness the largest gathering of countries all over the world to create, collaborate and innovate for the best future of humanity.”
Thrilled to be a cast member and performer during the opening and closing ceremony, Dubai-based teacher Jonnel Garcia said: “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I am blessed to be part of history here in UAE. It’s a thrilling experience to meet and work with people of diverse backgrounds.”
Christian Belleza, a Dubai resident for over 10 years now, said that he did not think twice to devote his weekends at the Expo. “I decided to volunteer because it makes me happy to serve and to help. It’s my own way to give back and to give thanks to Dubai that has always been good to me. Sa tagal ko dito, I consider Dubai as my second home,” said Belleza, who is assigned as a country pavilion team member.
It’s the same reason why Engr. Analiza Binondo joined to be part of Expo volunteers. She said it’s only fitting to serve the country who has given a lot of opportunities to him in a span of almost two decades. She said: “I always consider UAE as my second home, being here for almost half of my life. I am grateful to this country and its leaders for ensuring the safety of its residents, allowing tolerance and cultures to co-exist, guided by the basic humanitarian values. To be an Expo Heart Volunteer is the least that I could do to give back and support the UAE to achieve the success of the EXPO 2020 and be part of the history.”
Meanwhile, Denver Retrato shared: “Napaka organized ng volunteerism platform dito. I am an active volunteer dito sa Dubai since 2015. Iba yung feeling na nakakatulong ka sa ibang tao, yung pakiramdam na maraming nakangiti pagkatapos ng isang volunteering event.” Retrato will be stationed at the Sierra Leone Pavillion as a country team member.
Adela Elago, who will be stationed at the Honduras pavilion said that she looks forward to treasure the memories she’ll experience at the big event: “Expo2020 Is a Mega Event at magandang opportunidad po to para sakin at isa pa habang buhay ko tong e-treasure na nakasali ako sa isang legendary event ng UAE where we can build our connections and meet different people from different countries.”
It was in 2019 when Pinoy PR professional Art Los Baños asked during a forum as to how UAE-based Filipinos can help beyond merely attending and visiting the Expo.
“As the host of the Town Hall meeting organized by the Filipino Social Club on December 13, 2019, I asked the DTI delegation led by Secretary Ramon Lopez and Ambassador Hjayceelin Quintana what can the 300 plus attendees do to help mount a successful Philippine participation at the ‘world greatest show’. They said they needed volunteers such as artists and in whatever capacity that can be extended to the pavilion. I’m very excited that Expo 2020 is now becoming a reality in a few days,” said Los Baños.
“It’s very encouraging to see Filipinos volunteer not only for the Philippine Pavilion but also for other pavilions and Expo 2020 events. This is a concrete expression of the community service culture of Filipinos which is the Bayanihan spirit,” he added.