Danilo Bunag and his wife Normita at their Dubai residence. Their two-bedroom flat in Al Nahda has been a temporary refuge for more than eight individuals and families since 2010. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: Not a year passes by without Danilo and Normita Bunag opening their doors to friends, friends of their friends, and even people they don’t know that are in need of a place to stay in Dubai free of charge.

The Filipino couple were initially hesitant to talk about their acts of kindness toward their compatriots over the past five years. But with persistent prodding, Danilo, a father of two, obliged.

“If you are sensitive to the needs of others, it just becomes natural or instinctive for you to help,” Danilo, a software specialist and sole breadwinner of the family, told Gulf News.

The family’s two-bedroom flat in Al Nahda has been a temporary refuge to more than eight individuals and families since 2010. Reasons for their stays vary from new residents without homes, families in transit in Dubai, or a couple who has just given birth and in need of assistance. Some would stay for weeks, others for months until they were able to stand on their own feet.

Normita, a homemaker, said providing a roof over someone’s head is not enough. The couple also guide their guests on how to go about living in Dubai.

“Showing kindness is not as easy as it seems. It takes your time, effort, even your money; sometimes you are even at risk while helping, but because we recognise that God is in our lives and He is the source of all this, we do it,” Normita said.

“We know that we are being blessed to be a blessing to others.”

Danilo knows exactly how his guests feel — he too was alone and in need of a support network when he first landed in Dubai in 2009. That is why whenever there is a chance to help someone in need, he grabs it.

“Looking at the background of Filipinos, we were raised in an environment where you see people in need from one place to another. That’s the value that our parents instilled in us — to help when there is an opportunity to help,” Danilo said.

The same is true for Jonathan Lanuza, an operation supervisor at a waste management company in Dubai. Lanuza has offered his home to friends who lost their jobs and accommodation, and to relatives who are new to Dubai.

“What I do is, instead of sending money to them, I try to give them an opportunity to work here in Dubai. I only open the door of opportunity for them and it’s up to them to make it work,” Lanuza said.

But both men said this practice is not peculiar to them. The practice of helping their fellowmen is rooted in an old tradition called ‘bayanihan’ that used to mean physically helping a person move house.

“If you come to think of it, the spirit of bayanihan among Filipinos is still there. But you don’t see people moving houses anymore, they do it in different ways,” Danilo said.

Jenny Gonzales, who was the former director of Manila-based Commission on Filipinos Overseas before coming to work in Dubai, said that although not all Filipinos show the same spirit in Dubai, bayanihan comes alive when there is a great need in the community.

“Whenever there are calamities back home, you see Filipinos mobilise aid without second thoughts or questions. Immediately, you see them come together to help out,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales said Filipinos have a concept of an “extended family” that becomes even more pronounced when they’re abroad.

“Filipino expatriates tend to find family or connection in others though they’re not blood related. When they’re abroad, an old neighbour from their hometown is treated as if he’s a cousin or a long-lost relative.”