Dubai: The UAE abounds with real-life stories of hundreds of thousands of expatriates who have chosen to leave their respective homelands behind and adopt this country as their second home.
Most of these are tales of success, triumph, love — of finding a home away from home. That explains why the UAE is home to people of more than 200 nationalities. It extends a warm welcome to every expatriate looking to realise his or her dreams here.
A 37-year saga
When George Hettiaratchy arrived in UAE from Colombo on October 29, 1984, he was all of 24. He had a diploma in electronics and communication and was in the UAE on his sister’s invitation, hoping to fulfil his dreams and find a good life for himself.
He found a job and established his career here, went back to Colombo to get married and came back with his wife Genevieve to start a family in Dubai. Now, 37 years later, the Hettiaratchys — George, Genevieve, Hiruni and Lahiru — are all living their dreams. While George works as a senior IT consultant with a government entity in the health-care sector, Genevieve is a homemaker, daughter Hiruni a travel consultant and son Lahiru recently completed his degree in Mechanical Engineering from the United Kingdom, where he is based at the present.
Co-founding a welfare association
Rising above and beyond the aspirations of his immediate family, George is also the leading co-founder of Sahana, the Sri Lankan Welfare Association, that helps thousands of people from the Sri Lankan diaspora in the UAE. Members of the association provide career counselling, medical help, unemployment aid, food packets, rations, educational aid and also repatriation assistance in extremely challenging cases.
Grasping the colours of the rainbow
Reminiscing his journey of 37 years, George told Gulf News: “I am indebted to the UAE that gave me a career and a secure life for my family. I came here as a bachelor at the age of 24 and had a stable and settled life. I got married and raised my children here. Today, both my daughter and son are well-educated and look forward to fulfilling their own ambitions.”
A passion for cricket
Recalling the simple life in this country, George said: “In those days, there wasn’t so many modes of entertainment. Therefore, for a young bachelor like me who was a die-hard cricket fan, the cricket stadium in Sharjah was the most happening place. There were no buses to ferry us, and we would all contribute Dh 1 each for a shared taxi ride to reach the Sharjah Cricket Stadium to watch the matches.
"I was able to witness some of the most interesting Test matches there. The other most important source of entertainment was Chanel 33 on Dubai TV. We would watch the news and every Thursday, the whole city would fall silent as everyone would be glued to their television sets, watching some Bollywood movie. This was pretty much our source of entertainment for many years.”
A turning point in George’s life came when his wife suffered a stroke. “This was in 2007. My wife Genevieve suffered a paralytic stroke and while running to hospital for her, dealing with doctors and taking care of the expenses, I realised how challenging it must be for other Sri Lankans with no family here to support them. Soon after that, a Sri Lankan lady accidentally had acid fall on her at her home in Karama and suffered horrific burns. I realised, I had to galvanise people to action to extend support to the community. Together, we identified the gaps, worked out a system to help liaise between our community and the other stakeholders and bring immediate relief to those in need,” explained George.
This urge to help the needy saw the birth of the association called Sahana in 2012. “We wanted to support the community and extend all kinds of logistical, mental, emotional, physical and medical support. We finally got the organisation approved by the Community Development Authority (CDA) in 2015 and started helping people,” George said. Sahana was particularly active during the COVID-19 crisis, sending food and groceries to destitute families, helping raise funds for families to be repatriated, providing career guidance and job placements.
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Inspired by UAE’s generosity
George said he felt inspired to help others through the Sahana initiative after seeing the way the UAE took care of people, bringing smiles to so many faces. “The UAE is so compassionate and large-hearted and is always there to help all communities. Office-bearers of Sahana work closely with the CDA authorities and provide a wide variety of assistance to families. I am happy to be associated with it,” he added.
‘Thank you UAE’
George added: “I cannot thank the UAE enough for giving my family a beautiful and stable life. The vision of the UAE leaders and their sense of tolerance to accommodate every religion, every community is truly remarkable and humbling to say the least. I deeply appreciate the way this country has welcomed me and my family and so many others like us with open arms. I would like to extend my best wishes and gratitude to this beautiful land.”