Dubai: Four teenagers from Dubai have had a life-changing experience after flying down to Kerala last week to help with clean up operations in the flood-hit south Indian state.
Ahmad Zachariah Faizal, Hassan Hussain, Omar Alimi and Furqan Shahzad were classmates who graduated last year from the International School of Choueifat in Sharjah.
Now studying in different universities in the UAE and the UK, the friends got together to do something different while they were enjoying their holidays in Dubai.
Speaking to Gulf News after returning from Kerala on Wednesday, the teenagers said Ahmad, whose family hails from Kerala, put forward the idea of flood relief work to his friends.
From left: Omar Alimi, Ahmad Zachariah Faizal, Hassan Hussain and Furqan Shahzad show pictures of themselves working with flood victims in Kerala. Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News
Ahmad’s parents run the Faizal and Shabana Foundation which was already involved in flood-relief operations on the ground.
“Students here usually do not get a chance to do such volunteering work. I was lucky that the foundation is there. So, I thought of asking my friends if they would like to join me,” said Ahmad who studies mechanical engineering in the University of Surrey in England.
His classmate Hassan, a Swedish national of Eritrean origin, Omar, a Syrian, studying industrial engineering from the American University of Sharjah, and Furqan who hails from Kashmir, India, who is doing mechanical engineering at the University of Manchester, did not think twice.
“It’s something that we had never done before. So we decided to go,” said Hassan.
The youngsters set off on their own to Kochi on September 6. They stayed in a hotel and were assisted by a representative of the foundation to visit the flood-hit areas every day.
Instead of going to different houses to extend their helping hands, they said they chose two shelters in Chalakudy, where the ground floors of many buildings were submerged in floods.
The first one was a shelter run by nuns for children with special needs.
“All the kids had to be evacuated and admitted to hospital during the floods. Most of the kids were back when they reached there,” said Ahmad.
The students said hundreds of volunteers from the area had already helped restore and clean up the interior of the ground floor.
“But there was a lot of debris lying around the shelter. It wasn’t safe for the children,” said Omar.
Wearing gloves, boots and masks, the youngsters said they spent about five hours for two days to clean up the shelter’s premises.
The next two days, they spent around the same time cleaning up a shelter for the mentally ill and rehab patients run by the Faizal and Shabana Foundation.
“Since the ground floor was under water, around 400 patients of the shelter had to stay on the first floor,” said Hassan.
They helped with cleaning the floors, doors and windows on the ground floor of the shelter.
Bonding with the children in the first shelter and seeing their happy faces were the best part of their trip, the boys said.
“The kids were affected mentally by the floods. They seemed to be happy to spend time with us. One of them didn’t even let Hassan leave the room,” said Ahmad.
After the cleanup operations, the students toured the area and learnt about the flood havoc, how people suffered, animals died and crops were damaged.
“We were pained to hear about, and see the destruction,” said Furqan.
Ahmad said it was sad to see all the earnings spent by people on houses, including those who work hard in the Middle East, gone.
Bitten by the volunteering bug, the students said they will engage in more such volunteering works when they go back to university.
“It was a very humbling experience. We live here in Dubai and everything is given to us. They don’t really teach us about such things in schools,” said Ahmad.
Furqan said he felt that he should have done his bit the same way during the Kashmir floods a few years ago.
“We want students to be given such opportunities for reaching out and giving back to the community,” he said.