The residents of International City in Dubai gathered to host a picnic
The residents of International City in Dubai gathered to host a picnic for the fire-affected who couldn’t save any of their belongings. Image Credit: Janice Ponce De Leon/Gulf News

Dubai: ‘Bayanihan spirit’ came alive in International City on Wednesday when neighbours united to help five Filipinas who had lost everything in a fire in their apartment the night before.

The term ‘Bayanihan’ refers to how the Filipino community pulls together in times of need. It derives from a time when it was common practice for the entire ‘barangay’ or village gathered together to literally carry a neighbour’s house on their shoulders to transport it to a new location.

The residents, many of whom have blue-collar jobs with some grappling with delayed pay, gathered to host a picnic for the women who couldn’t save any of their belongings in the blaze that broke out in their apartment in the Greece Cluster around 6pm on Tuesday.

Apart from food, the community also lent moral support to the victims with jokes cracked in between the chatter to lighten the mood.

“The incident was traumatising,” Chel, one of the fire victims, told Gulf News. She had tried to run through the flames to save her Emirates ID card and burnt her hair in the process.

“The thought of having to start all over again after losing everything is overwhelming. But being with everyone here now is uplifting,” she said.

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Two weeks before the incident, Tess, another victim, said she had a nightmare that she had lost everything. In tears, she said: “We may have lost everything, but we’re happy that so many people are willing to help us.”

Mitz, who is on a visit visa, said: “We’re just grateful we’re alive. Though I lost one ‘Balikbayan’ box [container full of things to send home to family], life is more precious.”

Gina, the last to escape the burning room, was in the shower when the fire erupted. When she opened the door smoke had already filled the hall and she fled to the exit, wearing just a towel.

“Some of my neighbours helped and gave me a blanket. Even non-Filipinos pitched in. They offered us a place to stay. The Regalado family came to our aid and made sure we were okay,” Gina said.

“We have been getting messages of encouragement from people. We are surprised to see the outpouring of support,” said Cristina, the last of the five fire victims.

Aside from food, the community has also given them clothes, blankets, towels and groceries.

Sandy Regalado, who organised the informal get-together, raffled off his Nike shoes, and the group, including a Nepali, gave whatever they could. “Everyone was willing to help. Whether the victims are Filipinos or not, they are humans. And we will help regardless. If you’re in their shoes, you would want to be helped as well,” Regalado, a petroleum inspector, told Gulf News.

“We know they lost everything, that’s why we made sure to provide their basic needs first — food, clothes and a bit of pocket money for their immediate needs,” added Ariel Telig, who works as a driver.

Help also poured from other members of the Filipino community. Community leader Josie Conlu delivered the aid to the ladies on Wednesday night. They will also receive help from the Philippine Consulate-General for their passport and other documents.