Dubai: A Dubai-based woman is helping scores of stranded fellow Indian expatriates amid the COVID-19 outbreak in UAE.
Meet Sheela Thomas, a lawyer by profession and social worker at heart.
A resident of UAE for the last 25 years, the 41-year-old woman is nothing less than an Iron Lady spearheading relentless efforts to rescue thousands of stranded blue-collar workers and equipping them with a legal framework so they can be repatriated in the first available flight back home.
“My mobile has turned viral. I am continuously receiving calls for help from stranded Indians and I don’t have the heart to say no,” she said.
Thomas said she has opened 2,200 files of desperate Indians hailing from Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who have been rendered jobless in the UAE during the pandemic. “Their paper-work needs to be sorted. Many of their visas have expired, passports still stuck with employers who are not releasing them for some reason or the other. I am taking care of all this work.”
What is more, Thomas is doing all this on a pro-bono basis, which means she is not charging any money for her work.
“I am doing a number of things for them. Firstly, understanding their situation, talking to their employers to release their documents and passports so they can travel home, getting the paper-work in place and keeping it ready for their travel when enough flights are ready. Besides, my fellow social workers and I have arranged food for these workers and pay their rentals just to make sure they are not slapped with legal issues by their landlords. Someone has to do the job,” she said.
Thomas recalled it all started with a food distribution programme in Sharjah’s Rolla area. “There were several hungry people and my friends and I volunteered to deliver food for them. Soon they started sharing their plight and desperate situation. I realised they were all jobless and many were on expired visas, too. They said hiring a lawyer was too expensive and so they were just stuck in their rooms waiting for a miracle to happen.”
She shared her number one evening and there has been no looking back since. Within an hour, her phone was buzzing and she ended up having to deal with the stranded men and their woes.
Soon Thomas was getting calls from people stranded in Industrial Area 2, Industrial Area 10, Ajman Jurf, Sharjah Rolla, Dubai’s Muhaisnah, Al Quoz and Al Awir areas. “It has been overwhelming for me. But I won't give up. I have lived in the UAE for 25 years. This land has given me so much. It is time to give back to the UAE and its people. These men are the people of UAE and they need help now,” said Thomas, whose state of origin is Kerala, but was born and raised in Hyderabad.
Everyday, Thomas prepares breakfast for 300 people from her home. “I have a help at home and we cook together. Besides, we deliver food packets to those in need. What can I say ... I just feel happy doing what I do. I hope more people volunteer and take inspiration from this,” she said.