A Community Group is a group of people who come together to pursue a common cause or interest for the good of their community
In Kuwait, a few community groups which were formed in the past were mainly strongly linked to the government and their decisions were influenced by the government’s whims. Among the community groups prominent in Kuwait, was Bait Al-Zakah Al-Kuwaiti, which helped the underprivileged people and economically disadvantaged countries, the Kuwaiti Disable Club established in 1971, and the Environmental Public Authority which was a joint venture by government associations and community groups. These groups were the first agencies in Kuwait that was interested in environmental betterment of the society.
In 1992, when there was an oil well fire in Kuwait caused by the Iraqi soldiers, volunteers lent their helping hands to the firemen to stop quell the fire. Soon afterwards, the Volunteers Work Centre (VWC) was established. However due to a number of reasons like family responsibility, priorities after the war, hot environment, lack of knowledge about the importance of voluntary work, educational backwardness of the masses etc, people didn’t come forward in large numbers to offer voluntary services. This is compounded by the fact that the government offered a high standard of living to the people.
In recent times, a number of community groups were formed in Kuwait, which was independent and free of government influence. These groups which played an important role in the social reforms of Kuwait are divided into two sections:
Section 1: This group were entitled the Volunteers Work Centre, consisting of (14 groups), such as The Disable Centre. Each group in this section has their own voluntary program and they interacted with other groups to discuss and update their work strategies.
Section 2: This section consists of groups who are working independently of the previous section, such as The Diving Centre.
This essay will discuss briefly the group community development in Kuwait with several success stories.
Group Community Development
Due to the timely and successful voluntary services provided by the Volunteer Centre, especially in controlling the burning oil fields and because of the support that they have received from the government, different community groups have been established under aegis of the Volunteer Centre. The Voluntary Centre has acted as a unifying factor in brining different community groups under one umbrella.
The community groups together with the Volunteer Centre sensitized the masses about the need of voluntary services, and about their works as well through the help of media. In order to sensitize the masses, they mostly choose specific days in the shopping malls, to do their surveys, to educate the people, and to create awareness about the importance of voluntary services. Shopping malls are chosen for publicity and awareness building purpose because most people frequent such malls. The groups also initiated programs in school and University premises to encourage young people to come forward and join voluntary services, since sensitizing the younger generation was easier than older people. The internet too had become an attractive tool for sensitization of masses and to introduce the community groups to the society.
Due to sensitization efforts, volunteers started to enrol directly to specific community groups; however, most of the volunteers went directly to the Volunteer Centre and they were assigned to various community groups according to their area of interests. Some of the volunteers had no specific backgrounds in community service or voluntary work, while others had meagre experience and could not decide where they would fit best. For such groups, the Volunteer Centre had specific programs to train them in specific area and then divide them into groups that fit their interests. Besides this, the Volunteer Centre provides volunteers to specific group community when they request for volunteers, or train new members on request.
Sometimes when a group is faced with problems which can not be resolved within the group, it seeks the help from other groups through the Volunteer Centre for specialized intervention. The Volunteer Centre, through networking with different community groups finds specialist from other groups suitable for resolving the issue. For instance, if the Disabled People Centre, which is one of the Volunteer Centre 14 groups, encountered a problem with their website, they can request the Volunteer Centre to provide them specialised manpower from community group with IT expertise to resolve their crisis. Another example of significant cooperation between the Volunteer Centre groups can be seen from the fact that the Horses Group, after being requested by the Disabled People Centre, has trained horses especially for the disabled people.
One of the successful group community under The Volunteer Centre of section one, is The Disabled People Centre. This centre was formed in 1999; The organizational structure of the Centre consists of a manager, assistant manager, secretaries and specialists etc. Voluntary work is carried out in a systematic and formal manner. Any request or help sought from the Centre has to be formally registered, along with a written application, which is either approved or disapproved with the consent of members or secretaries. The centre has dress code for volunteers and uniforms are provided by the centre.
The Disabled People Centre is divided into several sub-centres. While one sub-centre directly deals with the patients, another organizes the media campaign and look after publicity affairs. Yet another sub-centre solicits and coordinates donation by seeking financial help either from individual donors or aid agencies or as well as request equipments from prospective donors for the disabled people. One sub-section coordinates with other groups (local or overseas), organize competitions, ceremonies as well as other public relations campaigns.
Another successful independent community group of section 2 is The Kuwait divers’ centre which started with two leaders in 1995. The group taught diving to members of other groups and made them understand the importance of diving for the protection of marine environment. The group organised overseas trips to gain first hand experience, so that they could compare the difference between the marine environments of Kuwait with other places. The group runs as a team which consists of two leaders, their assistants, eight core members and 94 volunteers. It seeks to popularise the diving sport and to conserve the environment, particularly the marine environment. The community group is divided into two parts:
The training team teaches interested people how to dive. In the process, they expect some of these people to join their team, thus ensuring a sustainable future for the community group.
The environmental conservation team, which educates the trainers about the need to save and protect our environment, also publishes and distributes educational brochures, and take resort to other forms of media channels such as TV and radio to educate the broader community.
Both the team coordinate with each other under the direct guidance of group leaders and their assistants. The age and the qualifications of the members play an important role in determining the member’s position in the team’s hierarchy. It is part of the Kuwaiti tradition and culture to respect a person positioned above in the hierarchy.
The diver centre has accomplished some great task in the field of marine conservation which earned them more attention and recognition. This has helped in their expansion and growth. Till date, they have trained around 780 trainers, discovered wrecked ships in the Persian Gulf, trained members of the Ministry of Interior, published the “Kuwait Marine Environment Encyclopaedia”, discovered and mapped good diving spots in Kuwait, and was the first group train the disabled people in the Middle East.
The cooperation between the Kuwait Disabled People Club (different from Disabled People Centre) and the Divers Group has earned great respect and accolade from the society in general, and other community groups in particular. Since the group has demonstrated success with handicapped people, other groups from overseas have expressed their interest in the Kuwaiti diver group’s diving program for the disabled.
The successful endeavour by the voluntary groups of Kuwait has earned them great respect (both locally and internationally) and demand for their services has grown manyfold since their inception. Due to the small size of Kuwait, the group’s activities were widely dispersed. For the successful functioning of the community groups, the cooperation of the society is crucial. Cash or cheque donations as well as donations in terms of goods and services by generous Kuwaiti citizens helped these community groups cope with emergency situations with commendable ease.