Making a difference in the community need not be time consuming or expensive. If anything, extending your hand in help, adding an extra dollop of love, togetherness and giving is possible often without even having to step out of your home.
At the start of 2023, if there is perhaps one endearing lesson that we have learned it is to be there for others, reach out, extend your arms virtually or otherwise, to hand hold and have the back of your community.
Friday met with a few individuals and groups who have been running unique initiatives in the UAE that have brought joy and helped infuse the power of feel-good in the community.
Adopt a grandparent
When old age and infirmity strike, it is loneliness and neglect that often take away the joie de vivre in the elderly. However, imagine scores of students in their respective homes talking and sharing views and stories with an elderly person. Over a video call that is monitored by a mentor, students ranging from the age of 6-18 introduce themselves and get a granddad or grandmum to relax, share small and sundry conversations such as a joke, or a favourite recipe, a life lesson they learnt or a memorable incident that happened in their day.
Within minutes one can quite literally see the digital thaw take place. For the senior citizen living in an assisted home far from their loved ones, this conversation is often a much looked forward to part of their existence; something they wait for the entire week.
Welcome to the ongoing ‘Adopt a grandparent’ initiative.
Started as a small gesture to make an elderly abandoned gentleman living at seniors’ home feel loved, it has become a movement for students of Gems Modern Academy and has been running for two years even as the senior students who started it moved on to college and handed over the baton to the next batch.
It started when Asmi Choudhary, a grade 11 student of GMA, read about a man who had been abandoned by his son in India. Moved to do her bit, she did some research and helped the gentleman find a home at Earth Survivors Foundation, a home run by the social activist Ravi Kalra.
Asmi, her friend Siddhant Punamiya and some classmates then started ‘Adopt a Grandparent’ an initiative that was actively supported by the school and went on to become a perpetual value-based initiative for students of successive generations.
Nargish Khambatta, the principal of GMA, whole heartedly supported this initiative. ‘One of our mission statements that has recently been adopted is to inspire children to be positive changemakers. This initiative perfectly aligned with this vision.
‘The students did everything – from drawing up a list of volunteers every week, arranging zoom calls with senior citizens to even overseeing their comfort, etc. In one instance, they came to know that it was very cold in Delhi and the elderly were in discomfort. Some of them then rallied around to organise heaters for the homes; it was so touching. I am glad this initiative is now a permanent feature and is getting passed down to future generations of our students.’
Inspiring ortho patients to climb mountains
Imagine suffering from crippling osteoarthritis for over a decade and then being inspired by your doctor to trek to Everest Base Camp.
Dr Azam Badr Khan, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Prime Hospital, loves pushing the limits of his patients all around the globe with his new initiative, ‘Let’s walk again’, that he started few years ago. In 2020, he inspired his osteoarthritis patient, Rajesh to trek to Everest Base Camp.
Dr Azam’s main concern has been to raise worldwide awareness about knee health, knee conservation wherever possible, and where unavoidable to provide complementary knee replacement for the underprivileged residents of third world countries. Today, the ‘Let’s walk again’ team comprises multinational volunteer doctors from Syria, Pakistan, Lebanon who travel to Somalia, Nigeria, Mauritius, and Kargil in India to conduct free knee replacements for villagers.
Dr Azam, who is a vociferous supporter of saving the original knee has made it a point to embark on a minimum of two unpaid leaves of a fortnight each, with his team to visit these camps.
‘I want people to have greater awareness on knee conservation. Knee replacement can be avoided if patients reduce weight, eat healthily, take proper Vitamin D and multivitamin supplements, and work out core muscles that strengthen the musculoskeletal system. It is largely possible to avert damage and continue with your original knees if one pays attention to the conservation protocol,’ explains Dr Azam.
He liaises with the local, on-ground hospital teams in the place he chooses to hold camps. ‘The knee is the most important weight bearing part of the body and its improper use can cripple a patient and restrict movement. It is my mission not to let this happen.’ In the last six years of free camps, Dr Azam and his team conducted over 200 knee replacements ‘With better awareness and care we can avoid a large number of knee replacements and it is my mission to educate people about their knee health,’ says Dr Khan who has dedicated his life to this mission so much so that his patients now call him, ‘Dr Knee’.
Rooting for women’s health
When Seema Gupta, an Indian expatriate in Dubai began experiencing gynaecological issues after using sanitary napkins that had harmful chemicals in them, she decided to source organic, 100 per cent cotton and biodegradable napkins that would not only prevent allergies but also leave the organs infection-free.
Her venture Orgabliss that was initiated during the pandemic manufactures sanitary napkins that are eco-friendly. However, not satisfied by that she launched an initiative to educate schoolgirls on menstrual health and personal hygiene, contacted schools to provide free packs for teenage girls and reached out to the Dubai Foundation of Abused Women (DFAW) and provided them with as many packs as are required. In addition, she provides free packs for underprivileged women.
‘Socially, we are taught that menstruation is a ‘women’s burden’ and she must suffer in silence. I want to change that. To that end, my team visits schools to educate teenage girls about personal hygiene and because I want them to experience the difference of organic sanitary napkins, I distribute it free of cost to schools, shelters and anyone who contacts me.
‘Women need to shed their inhibitions, prioritize their health, and take the conversation about their personal health and hygiene to the next level. That is why I started my website on this where we answer all questions related to menstrual hygiene,’ says Seema.
The Connect Project
Maria Conceicao, a Portuguese expatriate in Dubai and former flight attendant is a familiar name working tirelessly for over a decade to improve the lives of vulnerable underprivileged children. She has been helping neglected kids from third world countries break the cycle of poverty and bring new opportunities for their rehabilitation.
During the last three years of the pandemic, Maria worked on a unique project she called “Connect” to take her work in marginalized communities to the next level. ‘Since Covid, I started a business in the UAE selling books of inspirational or motivational stories. These are mostly about individuals who came from poverty or similar adverse difficulties and fought to improve themselves or their lives.
‘The writers, photographers, and contributors from these marginalized communities are of course paid for their work, but I wanted to do much more than that – to give more back to these communities. I realized that many of the young adults, even with a good education received through charities or other means, remained cut off from good job opportunities and university places. Therefore, I assisted in bringing these young adults, mostly young women, to Dubai to work as interns.’
Connect has helped these young adults disconnected from opportunities due to financial barriers find the best internships and possible placements in the UAE market suited to them.
Connect turned into a novel opportunity for people and businesses to step in to help, by providing training and coaching for interviews and give these aspirants the best possible chance of success. Many of them found jobs and were able to save money for university. While some received sponsorship for university education from their employers, others found full time work and not only support families in their home country but have also helped some of their family members find a job in the UAE, explains Maria.
‘There are two things that I wish were different – first we should give, or help others regularly and not just occasionally. Of course every little bit helps but it takes persistence and a continuous effort to really help someone, and change someone’s life or situation.
‘Second, don’t expect anything in return, at least not immediately. Just enjoy the feeling you get from being generous or helping another. Often those you are helping don’t understand how much of a difference you are making in their life.’
Fun learning through play activity
Indian entrepreneur Suzanna Varghese felt deeply about the kind of values being inculcated by young toddlers. Instead of only discussing and debating about it, she got together some like-minded people to start a collective ‘Nudge for Better’, an organisation for social good.
Suzanna decided to inculcate the values of compassion and empathy in kids with a fun learning and activity box set that she designed for children between the ages of 6 and 10 years. The box was based on an inspirational theme ‘World without Hunger’. Suzanna and her team visit schools and hand over the boxes free of cost to children in this age group to make them understand how not to waste food, and help them learn how to work towards a world without hunger.
Elaborating on her fun activity, Suzanna says, ‘This box set contains flashcards with compelling facts and interactive exercises for our little future makers. It is meant to probe, inspire and shape them to be the change makers of tomorrow. Effective learning happens when children are encouraged to actively participate in doing things.’
The box has been popular with kids who find it stimulating and engaging. ‘Children can do a number of activities – become a food detective, play the leftover chef, draw their food superhero, organise a food drive, gift a tree, grow some tomatoes and so much more. The flash cards also carry links to entertaining, educative videos that children will love. It also comes with a jigsaw puzzle featuring custom artwork made for the cause and an eco-friendly trophy celebrating each child as a Champion of Change.’
The activity set is carefully designed to nurture creativity and imagination, build awareness on important matters, foster a sense of responsibility and help cognitive growth, while providing hours of fun.
Because we Care initiative
During the last two years when borders dissolved and people came together in the aftermath of a pandemic, many faced tough meltdown issues such as bereavement, job loss, long isolation or illness and faced emotional, mental and economic crisis. It was then that the Dubai-based UV consultant founder, VP Menon, an internationally trained and certified life coach, decided to pool the talent of his trained and certified coaches to offer entirely complimentary life coaching sessions for anyone in the world, who required it.
‘We (about 45 life coaches) launched the ‘Because we care initiative’ and decided to be available in the virtual world and reach out to the community to help them sort out their relationship issues, financial crisis, coming to terms with loss of a loved one or a loss of job and chart out the challenges. It has been a deeply satisfying two years for our coaches,’ says Menon.
Menon is not alone. Firas Saab from Lebanon, Thuraya Surcar from Palestine and Kristine Sumo from the Philippines are all trained life coaches from UV who have in the last two years with patience and forbearance lent their heart, soul, ears and their time to anyone who needed it, free of charge.
Saab who certified in 2016 and specialises in physical and emotional fitness helped 24 people in a year. ‘These people enrolled from around the world, and I had group and one-on-one interactive classes where each session stretched easily to two hours. Many a time, people just want someone to listen to them. I was that person, helping them make sense of their crises, using the principles of NLP and other life coaching to help them navigate difficult relationship and financial issues, holding their hand through several delicate moments and helping them reset their life goals,’ he explains.
Kristine and Thuraya second that. Kristine shares her experience: ‘I started providing free coaching to people in the UAE and the Philippines as I saw how the pandemic resulted in such a drastic change in their lives. I felt the need to provide a safe space to those who felt lost and did not have access to people who could guide them and provide clarity.
‘This initiative helped reduced the stigma on mental health and gave them a chance to air their vulnerabilities without any fear of judgement.
‘No matter how successful people are in their lives, there is always one thing pulling them down and it felt comforting to be an instrument to their life changing discoveries.’
To tens of hundreds of people who benefited from these complimentary sessions hosted by over 45 life coaches, it felt like the world had metaphorically extended its arms through virtual reality to touch and impact each one’s life.