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The UAE Buddy platform conducts a webinar with parents on remote learning support Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: It was a humble message that Dubai-resident Anna Arzua MacMillan left on her social media pages that changed things for her overnight in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic.

“Hi, I’m Anna. I live in Dubai,” she said. “If you’re elderly, suffer from a chronic condition or have special needs, please don’t hesitate to message me. I will gladly do what I can to assist you in this difficult time.”

Very soon MacMillan’s social pages had strangers writing in for help. “Hello Anna,” one wrote, “I’m lonely and I need to talk to someone.” Then there was another, saying, “I have lost my job, can you help.” Or, “Hello Anna, I am dealing with anxiety and I need to speak to a professional for help.”

The buddy system

It was then that Anna MacMillan thought of mobilizing the community to share whatever resources each member had to help those who needed it the most. And so, the group #InThisTogether - UAE Buddy was born.

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Anna MacMillan Image Credit: Supplied

The initiative connects people to people because MacMillan believes that “despite the social distancing, we need to stick together as a community.”

“The UAE Buddy system is all about a community of people aiming to support each other during this pandemic. It’s all about connecting people willing to help, with those who need help during the Coronavirus Crisis. I wanted to make sure that nobody felt left behind. And I wanted to help the small businesses as we tried to readapt to this new normal,” explains MacMillan, who is also part of the popular Ramadan Sharing Fridges initiative in Dubai.

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A notice from the UAE Buddy group Image Credit: Supplied

MacMillan says that her mother who is living alone in Spain inspired the initiative. “It started with the need to find help for her. My family is at the epicenter of this crisis. My mom, who is immune-compromised and lives in Spain alone, needed someone to walk her dog. So, I had arranged for our younger neighbors to help her. It made me feel that in the UAE we also can extend support to vulnerable members of the community,” she says

Sense of togetherness

MacMillan started with checking on friends and neighbours, reassuring them that they could count on her as family. “We’ve lived in the UAE for more than 13 years. This is our home, we love it as our own. The idea of this initiative is to become more connected than ever, and putting technology to work for good, to help us regain the sense of togetherness.”

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A notice from the UAE Buddy group Image Credit: Supplied

So how does the initiative work?

The platform offers help in various areas: emotional and mental support; connecting job hunters to people who can help find a position, offering to do grocery shopping for someone with a chronic health condition, taking care of someone’s pet if they fall sick or need to be hospitalized, sending letters to appreciation to frontline workers, and sharing knowledge through mentorship to organizations struggling in a challenging market. All mentors are licensed experts who volunteer with their time. What is interesting here is that MacMillan has introduced a barter agreement keeping in mind the freelancers and the SMEs.

“The idea is to help businesses to keep actively working through collaborations and barter agreements, where the exchange of services could solve the problem of cash flow, and maintain businesses rolling by sharing resources. For example, if there is a social media marketing manager who is currently freelancing and a cafe owner, they can use the barter system where the freelancer can offer digital marketing services in return for some free meals. Any community member with goodwill can always find ways to support the community,” says MacMillan.

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A notice from the UAE Buddy group Image Credit: Supplied

Mental Health

“If we can offer whatever resources we have as a tool to navigate through this time of uncertainty, then we can come together as a community and build stronger bonds,” says MacMillan who stresses on the importance of mental health during such times of crisis. Community members can register on the website and then follow the group through the facebook and Instagram pages. Currently it has about 500 members and growing every day.

“For many parents in the UAE homeschooling is a new concept. But there are many others who have been using this system for years altogether. Our space gets both families on the same platform to help them exchange experiences and support each other,” says MacMillan.

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Register to get a buddy during the coronavirus pandemic Image Credit: Supplied

We have your back

To every family in the UAE, riding the crisis, MacMillan wants to say that “someone has got their back. You are not alone. We need to think of how we will build once this is behind us. It is a call to the community to readapt and to come together to keep up the continuity of work.”