An opportunity that has opened doors

Gouthami Pillai is one of the volunteers at EXPO 2020.

With 60 days to go, expo 2020 volunteers recount exposure, development and hope for the future

By Sakina Juzar

I remember Nov. 27, 2013 like it was yesterday. It was another clear day, as I sped past trees basked in sunlight, tall buildings and people, all full of life, all focused on life. As I absorbed the world from the backseat window of my father’s car, with old-fashioned Bollywood songs filling the air, there was an announcement, the one that was about to change lives of millions, including the 16-year-old girl with dreams. 

The melodious Bollywood rhythms came to an abrupt stop as the radio station announced that Dubai has won the bid to host the EXPO 2020.  

“From that day everything I have to tell you is a culmination of dreams, and to the world of hope that opened for me,” said Gouthami Pillai, volunteer at EXPO 2020. 

Expos are global events, dedicated to finding a solution to fundamental challenges faced by humanity. And as the world came to an abrupt stop, coming together was not just important anymore, it was urgent. 

About 120 countries, worldwide organizations, and 25 million worldwide visitors later, the country has seen unprecedented technological advancement and a hope for future and innovation. It has wowed every spectator, and those who worked towards its success. 

“When I heard about the volunteer opening, I knew I had to be a part of this,” Pillai said when she talked about her anticipation and excitement for the festival, as well as the change it was about to bring to the country. 

“As an expatriate, the value of community was very close to my heart,” Pillai said. 

Growing up in a country so vibrant and inviting, EXPO 2020 was nothing short of a celebration of culture and humanity. 

So, when makers around the world joined forces for the biggest world fair, the expo worked towards gathering an army of 30,000 volunteers who would help provide visitors with a memorable experience. These volunteers were appointed to help with media, protocol, visitor safety, amongst other things. The program was open to all citizens and residents from the age of 18. The oldest volunteer was aged 79 according to the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper, “The National.” 

The volunteers were trained to understand and help the people to the best of their ability. Helping others is something Pillai will cherish the rest of her life.  

“Volunteers were selected from a pool of 180,000 applicants,” said the Director of Expo 2020, Abeer Al Hosani.  She added that these individuals were the “face and heart of expo.”

“This was the most diverse group of people I had ever come across,” said Pillai. 

Volunteers at Expo 2020 are expected to be committed, respectful and embody the values of the land and its festival. They are required to represent the fair, as well as learn new skills and create memories and connections. 

Similarly, the world fair promised a new door of opportunities for everyone. 

“Going in for this job, I expected to make connections that would last a lifetime. And I am happy to report that not only have my expectations been met, but they have also been far more successful,” Pillai said. 

  “As we came in with hope, we got to leave with assurance,” said Zakir Hussain, another volunteer who works as a protocol and safety associate. 

The 27-year-old expatriate emphasized the skill set and exposure created by this opportunity. These skills will stay with him long after the festival ends. Protocol associates are occupied in ensuring a safe journey for visitors across the site including diplomats and dignitaries. 

“Our job allowed us to meet people around the world. Each visitor had a story to tell. None, similar to its last,” Hussain said. 

He added that with every day, he had a chance to experience, observe and develop. The encounters with people resulted in memories and connections that would last a lifetime. 

“I am now more prepared than ever for whatever that awaits me in the future,” said Pillai. 

Her time with EXPO 2020 has given her hope for a better tomorrow.