27-year-old Dubai expat Arati Rai believes that when someone else has faith in you, it’s easier for your dreams to come true. But for Rai, dreaming didn't come easy with life's struggles stacking up against her from a very young age.
Rai, originally from Nepal, was born in Meghalaya, India where her parents were expats. Life was going well until the family had to make a sudden return to their home country. Rai was in Grade 8.
Her father had been in an accident that rendered him too weak to work, and Rai had to drop out of school. She got married at this point, and soon had a baby girl. However, the marriage didn’t last and the couple separated seven days after the baby was born.
A single mum at 16, with her father unable to earn money, Rai had no choice but to start working. It fell on the teenager to support her parents, siblings and now, a daughter.
So when her baby was just six months old, Rai decided to look for work but there were not many options. “I started working in construction sites, doing various works, for the income of the house,” Rai said.
It was backbreaking work, especially for a teen and a new mother – mixing cement and helping carry batches of construction materials.
Rai recollected, “My mother would take care of my daughter. I would go for work in the morning and if the site was nearby I would walk home for lunch. If the walk took me longer than 30 minutes, I would stay at the site until evening, and I would only see her [the baby] in the evening…”
Trying her luck abroad
When her daughter turned three, Rai decided to try her luck at going abroad for a job that would pay more. Through an agent, she successfully applied to join the UAE-based EFS Facilities Management Services Group as a housekeeping attendant. She was 19.
Rai said, “I worked in school projects for one year as a housekeeping attendant. Then later on, they decided to promote me to team leader.”
After working for a couple of years as a team leader, Rai’s superiors at EFS told her to come in to interview for a receptionist role. “And [at] that time I didn't know, what [a] receptionist is and how they work. And, because I studied till Grade 8 only I didn't know how to use the computer,” she said.
Rai beat all odds and was selected for the job. She underwent training for nearly six months in Abu Dhabi and later in Dubai, after which she managed the reception for a while. This was a stepping-stone to the role that Rai currently holds as personal assistant to the Group CEO of EFS.
From being a housekeeping attendant to working as a personal assistant in a corporate office, Rai credits her superiors and colleagues for enabling her career progression. "I always dreamed to work, you know, in an office, but they made it happen, they gave me the opportunity, and [told me] you can do this, "she said.
Conquering fears and making dreams come true
One of Rai’s life-changing achievements was overcoming her biggest fear – that she wouldn’t be able to raise her daughter as her own. In Nepal, single mothers couldn’t apply for the child’s birth certificate without having to use the father’s surname or identity – this has changed now.
As a workaround at the time, Rai’s sister and brother-in-law had legally adopted Rai’s daughter to avoid custody and naming issues with her estranged husband. With her current financial independence and the changed laws, Rai was able to rectify this.
“Last year, when I went, I changed her name to mine [surname]. Her name is now Prathima Rai," she added with pride.
Rai also helped change the fortunes of the entire family. She helped two siblings join EFS. Rai also built a family home where her mother and 11-year-old daughter now live. Rai added that neighbours and their acquaintances were also proud of her success.
The dream ahead for Rai is her daughter’s education and future. Rai said, "I want to support her studies, and [help her] become whatever she wants."
“I also want to travel… and dance. I used to dance when I was young."
Talking about how her life has changed, Rai said she wouldn’t have been able to achieve any of this if she had not moved to the UAE, adding, "“I can see myself, if I was there [home], I still would have been struggling …”
Rai said, “If we have a dream, if we can believe in ourselves, UAE gives us the opportunities [to fulfil them]."
“I feel like there is so much more freedom here, especially for girls, they give us priority wherever we go. I feel more comfortable [here] than in my own country,” Rai added.
“I want to stay here, and continue to grow.”
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