NAT 200721 Aamer Al Yafei-1596879246027
UAE Relief Initiative project has helped Emirati Aamer Al Yafei find purpose, and made him a more empathetic person. Image Credit:

Abu Dhabi: A humble project started in March to help UAE residents in need during the coronavirus outbreak has so far assisted more than 20,000 people, and shows no signs of stopping.

Founder Amer Al Yafei, a 30-year-old Emirati chemical engineer, said the UAE Relief Initiative project has helped him find purpose, and made him a more empathetic person.

“When things began shutting down in March, I knew people would be financially incapable of taking care of themselves. Most families spend huge chunks of their earnings on rent, and with many people losing their jobs or being placed on unpaid leave, it would get hard to even get groceries and essentials,” Al Yafei told Gulf News.

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‘Willing to contribute’

“So I made a post on a Facebook group, asking people if they would like to participate in an initiative to help others in need. This led to a WhatsApp group that helped me connect those in need with others willing to contribute,” he added.

Today, the WhatsApp group has more than 2,000 volunteers. Even people who met through Facebook have been coordinating efforts that include providing groceries and essentials, as well as medicines for those who cannot afford them, and even tickets for those looking to go back home.

“There are many people in need, and with no income, food and groceries have become their biggest need. So we’ve been coordinating between donors to deliver these essentials to them,” Al Yafei said.

“In addition, we’ve tried to assist with repatriation efforts by helping secure air tickets to countries like India, Pakistan and the Philippines, especially for women in advanced stages of pregnancy,” he added.

People in need usually reach out on a dedicated Facebook page.

Slowly opening up

“Every time we enable posts, we get 200 to 300 requests at a time. We then process those before opening up for the next set of requests. And to ensure that people don’t abuse the system, we ask for proof of their need,” Al Yafei explained.

Despite the economy slowly opening up, the founder said he has seen no decline in the number of requests.

“Many nursery workers, teachers and mall salespeople are still on unpaid leave, or have lost their jobs entirely. They are unable to fly out because of the limited number of flights, so the need is still there. In fact, only about 15 per cent of the people who have reached out to us have actually gone back to paid work. I expect the situation will continue for at least another year, until people are able to go back home or find alternative employment,” Al Yafei said.

‘Making the initiative permanent’

The UAE Relief Initiative doesn’t collect funds; instead it makes the products or services directly available from donors to those in need. In many cases, donors remain anonymous even as people benefit from the goods delivered to them.

Al Yafei said he foresaw working on the project for the next few months, with the support of his family and the volunteers.

“Beyond this, I hope to make the initiative permanent, perhaps to help people pay off their debts,” Al Yafei added.

A.L., a Nepalese spa therapist who is expecting her first baby this month said the UAE Relief Initiative had helped her pay the rent.

“I have been on unpaid leave for a few months, and my husband was also off. So the Dh1,000 that generous donors dropped off at our doorstep was a massive help. I am so grateful to the kind hearts, and to [Al Yafei] for the assistance in these challenging times,” A.L. said.