Blue And White Link

Blue-collar workers: clear directions

- Vasanti Krishnan, Sujata Devadas April 02 2021

Give credit where it is due.

Fire wardens, school bus conductors, technicians, construction workers, housekeeping staff, life guards and security guards  benefitted when 6 friends acknowledged the massive efforts of these blue-collar workers and made a plan of action.

This friendly conversation at a Dubai coffee shop in March 2009 evolved into a fan of 14 different projects, programs and activities under SmartLife non-governmental organisation, Dubai. They help blue-collar workers from 18 to 20 nationalities, many from the Asian subcontinent working in Dubai.

“Solving my problems” 

Gains derived by blue-collar workers from this NGO’s different projects bring their brilliance clearly to the surface. Beneficiary, fire warden Akhtar Ali says, “I work in the Health and Safety section on oil rigs. The ability to speak comfortably in English to rest of the drill team staff - people from Philippines, Canada, Lebanon, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Australia, Emarati nationals and European citizens - makes me work better.


Akhtar Ali

I am not struggling to communicate about critically important safety. Exposure to this whole international work environment, improving my skill set in English through SmartLife’s SmartReading courses and doing their computer courses means my kids are getting a completely different parenting base. I have more confidence now to guide their growth in education, health, finance and occupational choices.”

Smarter in communication after doing SmartReading courses, Sunitha Nair moved up the occupational pyramid from working in housekeeping to school bus conductor to be security staff, then to becoming a blue-collar accommodation camp’s warden. The only woman in that particular batch of 15 students, she topped in those courses. SmartLife gifted her a laptop. Dot on time, as her son finished schooling in India and wished to go deeper into computer education, this laptop helped him do so.


Sunitha Nair tops the SmartReading B2 level course and receives a laptop in 2019

These kids and many others who benefitted under the NGO’s SmartBuddy program understand how it hinges upon taking responsibility for their own life. They are rooting for their parent’s success. Sunita continues attending interesting SmartLife projects and explains the benefits to others.

Reaching 250 labour camps


Saleem Badnaati

“It is tantalisingly tempting to spend a Dirham in UAE. Yet a whole family relies on this one income,” says technician Saleem Badnaati. All these workers have dreams to realise, a list they wish to accomplish. They grew up like many of us in small towns and villages across the world where English is just “foreign”.

Once Saleem’s comprehension of English improved, he helped SmartLife connect with 250 labour accommodation camps. “Why? Because I grasped the value of their other courses which address important aspects of life:  healthcare, education, communication, financial management, family bonds, developing artistic creativity and talent, using computers, familiarisation with Arabic culture and language, and relaxation. I attend them. I have learnt to live under a budget better,” he says. Saleem is now on the SmartLife Board, Director of Welfare, leading Project Managers.

Contributors’ foundation

Registered with the Community Development Authority in Dubai, all SmartLife activities run on Fridays to reach maximum number of blue collar workers who have that day off. The whole endeavour to build the skills of blue-collar workers and cater to their welfare by curating corporate social responsibility funds involves the dedication of volunteers.

What followed was the consuming interest of those who gained. Dedicated participation happens when blue-collar workers are empowered and share that news. Some drop out, some are determined to do better. SmartLife shows the possibilities, the steps … how to get there. Back-up support from corporate and individual donors promotes building up the strength and welfare of this human resource.

Biggest concern

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SmartArabic classes in February 2021


Prior to the pandemic, volunteers complete SmartDistribution at a labour camp led by project leader Saleem Badnaati

The whole umbrella effort - everything from distributing dry fruits, hygiene products, cooked meals and corporate giveaways smartly to labour accommodations, free health checks in collaboration with Aster group, the exercise sessions, meditation and relaxation programs - could have simply vanished with the COVID19 lockdown in 2020. Instead, the NGO decided immediately to respond to this unexpected crisis.

It put up a helpline number for urgent situations regarding food, jobs and medicines. The SmartCOVID Relief Fund helped blue-collar workers on a visit visa looking for a job in Dubai, living on a shoe string budget now unable to return home.  SmartLife funded their airplane ticket.

Need for a virtual bridge

“It is not done in isolation, it is not one person's work,” says Manjula Ramakrishnan, the current president of SmartLife. “There is an entire enthusiastic passionate team of 150 to 180 registered volunteers. Before the pandemic, 70 to 80 active volunteers organised and conducted our programs. From February 2020, we stopped all on-the-ground projects.”

Most activities were moved to the virtual platform. Adhering to protective Covid guidelines, a list of approved vendors continued supplying food and grocery items to labour camps supervised by SmartLife project coordinators and labour camp wardens.

Spill over, educating at source

Last year, when schools closed, the SmartBuddy project took off. The aim is to give children, whatever their background, clear direction, clear insight, a better perspective to accomplish a good life. LightHouse Cohort worked with SmartLife to pair a blue-collar worker’s child living in a different country with a student living in the UAE. Both kids meet online. Each picks a long term and a short term academic or non-academic goal. They prepare a vision board and choose steps to reach their goals. A mentor is assigned to guide each pair in the SmartBuddy project. Each child is also given a brain profile test. The result helps them understand how their intellect works.


Participants of two different SmartBuddy batches

This recent personal development course began with school children. Now, a batch of college students are linked by SmartBuddy.

Rigorous talent training

Presenting our innate creative artistic talent in front of an appreciative audience is a dream beyond expectation. This is where SmartIdol stepped in to make a dream, an aspiration come true. SmartLife’s earlier president facilitated this through SmartLife. They scouted for artists and put the contestants through rigorous training. Mentors, professionals in that art, guided them. Winners emerged from these artists with blue-collar jobs. Ecstatic to get access to such a platform, Prabin Kumar Bedwal from Nepal, Diana Namayanja from Uganda, Sahib Iqbal from Pakistan, Fahim Khan of India gained fame through their talent.

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Budding talent: SmartIdol contestants 2020

Offering change

For four years, Ramadan fair under the aegis of SmartLife was a truly entertaining event. The pandemic stopped the fair.


Posters on SmartLife programs in Dubai city continue to offer help to blue collar employees. It is all about translating appreciation into substantial tangible gain.

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Poonam Nagesh

Smart life and smart buddy is a great initiative. Thanks for sharing this article.