Not all heroes wear capes. And even as UAE’s first responders battle the COVID-19 pandemic at the various medical facilities across the country, there are others who are stepping up to do their part in giving back to the community.
While some are providing help with the groceries and basic necessities for individual households, others are ensuring there’s a hot meal on the table for those that need it.
Indian resident Dinesh Khiara is one such member of the Thathai Bhatia community that believes everyone must play their part if they have the ability to do so. It was with this in mind that he sent out a message to his contacts on WhatsApp on April 1 to provide a helping hand.
Khiara wrote: “If you are concerned about you or your child not being able to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner feel free to PM (private msg) me with no fear, guilt or shame [sic].
When Gulf News spoke to the 53-year-old, he explained the reasoning behind his move. “I’ve been a resident of the UAE for 41 years and this country is my home. If there’s a crisis, it is my duty to help in my own way.”
Since his message was sent out, Khiara has received a number of calls from community members asking for help. “I had a Filipino national call me yesterday. I could offer them delivery of two meals each and grocery vouchers that would provide basic food supplies for a few weeks.”
Khiara and his brothers, who have 114 staff members reporting to them, also decided to provide their employees an advance on salary. “Whether or not this is good business sense, my brothers and I thought this was the right thing to do so we stepped up.”
While Khiara is helping on an individual level, the Keralite restaurant community has banded together to provide meal packs for 300-plus people daily.
Indian social worker Naseer Vatanappally, who has been on the frontline of volunteering work at Naif in Dubai for about two weeks, has been instrumental in ensuring extensive support for several residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 and their primary and secondary contacts.
Working closely with Dubai Police and Dubai Health Authority, Naseer and his friends have helped dozens of residents with symptoms to be shifted to hospitals and other quarantine facilities.
He has also been actively participating in distribution of food and personal protection supplies to hundreds of residents in the area and coordinating medical screening for thousands of residents.
Around 150 volunteers led by Shabeer Kizhur from Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre (KMCC) in Dubai have also been working day and night with Dubai authorities and donors to distribute food and medical supplies in Naif, said advocate Ibrahim Khaleel, secretary and legal centre chairman at Dubai KMCC.
“For many days, our volunteering teams have been supporting hundreds of people who had contacts with patients by supplying food and personal protection items like masks, gloves, hand sanitisers etc,” Khaleel told Gulf News.
“Since yesterday, the number of people we are catering to has gone up to around 3,000 after the current lockdown in Al Ras and surrounding areas. Now, it is not just people who have been quarantined. We are serving everyone in these neighbourhoods.”
He said the volunteers pick up and distribute lunch and dinner for 1,000 people arranged by Dubai Police. The rest of the food donations are from various restaurant groups.
KMCC has opened a 24x7 help desk to address the concerns of the residents in the area. “Our volunteers are assisting the medical teams with testing and working with DHA and RTA for transporting positive patients. We are getting support from our other units in various emirates also.”
Khaleel said independent volunteers like Ranjith Kodoth and other community groups like Sharjah Indian Association are also actively involved in community service.
Volunteers of various nationalities, who have joined the drive in Al Ras through the Day For Dubai initiative, have been on the site wearing the blue jackets.
Shanavas Mohammed, who runs Golden Fork and Uppum Mulakum restaurants, is part of the restaurant consortium in the UAE that is providing food and basic groceries to those who are unable to afford them at this time.
Working together with the Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre and Helping Hands, a group of 25 Keralite restaurants have taken it upon themselves to provide food on the table for those in need.
“Within 10 days, we supplied close to 3,000 meals or 300 meal kits daily,” Mohammed revealed. “We now have a system whereby every restaurant, be it Ustad Hotel or Calicut Paragon, bands together and provides 50 meals each. We take turns so no one restaurant is burdened with the cost.”
Ustad Hotel’s Mohammed Bineesh also added that it all began with a WhatsApp group. “All of us restaurant owners, around 25 of us, are on a group and the idea was floated around. Everyone immediately jumped at the idea and decided to contribute.”
Both, Mohammed and Bineesh added that their suppliers have been very supportive in this undertaking.
“Today, they are supporting us with discounted supplies of staples such as rice, oil, ghee, frozen parathas and chicken,” Bineesh said.
Mohammed also added that those in need of help can reach out to the restaurants or call on the numbers listed on their social media posts. “Even if you are not in need of food but supplies such as groceries, masks or gloves, we will do our best to help,” he added.
While leading healthcare service providers like Aster DM Healthcare, Medeor Hospital and Prime Healthcare Group have joined forces with the Dubai authorities to conduct mass screening programmes in Naif and Al Ras, other groups and volunteers have been supplying masks and gloves to several residents in different parts of Dubai.
Shaji Shamsudheen, director of City Life Pharmacy in Naif said the pharmacy gifted various PPE items to healthcare workers in clinics in Naif and also distributed masks and gloves to the residents in the area.
Joginder Singh Salaria, founder of PCT Humanity, said the non-profit organisation distributed thousands of masks at various construction sites and labour accommodations in Dubai and donated 5,000 masks to Dubai Police for distribution.
He said he has offered to provide chemical tankers to Dubai Municipality for supporting its sanitisation drive and to help conduct awareness campaigns among blue-collar workers.
Social worker Ayesha Ismail, who heads Open Arms UAE, made the collective effort to distribute hygiene kits to 230 for workers in Dubai.
Meanwhile, the global movement called #ViralKindness, a the brainchild of Cornwall copywriter Becky Wass, has also made its way down to Dubai. In a March 13 tweet that went viral, Wass’ friend Paul Trueman posted on Twitter: “My clever, lovely copywriting friend Becky wanted to give people a way to share kindness, rather than their fears (and anything else) so she came up with this card. Please feel free to share and print, for anyone in your street or community. #viralkindness”
The card in question helps out those who are self-isolating with volunteers in the community offering to pick up their shopping, post their mail, provide urgent supplies or simply make a friendly call. Those who want to help can fill out the virtual card and post it on their community groups or circulate it through WhatsApp.
“After weeks of news about the coronavirus, I felt as I’m sure many people did, very scared and helpless. Jon and I were talking about how it must feel if you are at risk or can’t leave the house,” Wass told Huffington Post. “We wanted to do something to help, but without making things worse.”
The Greens community in Dubai has already seen several people fill out their details and post the card on Facebook to help with anything during this crisis.
“It’s an anxious time for a lot of people, especially those alone and family elsewhere. Let’s support our community,” wrote one poster, while filling out her contact details to be reached in case anyone needed her help.