Dubai: Dean Theron and his partner Blanca Mandujano, both 27-year-olds from South Africa, left their home and jobs in Johannesburg and took a leap of faith to arrive in Dubai on February 27 to make the emirate their new home. The couple had visited Dubai last year and were “blown away” with the emirate’s infrastructure, safety and beautiful beaches. They wanted to set up home here and apply for jobs.
Everything brought to a halt
“We had a good life in South Africa but we sold everything back home to make it work here in Dubai and came with our savings. But soon after we arrived, the coronavirus pandemic brought everything to a halt,” says Dean. None of the companies they approached were hiring and no matter how many interviews they took, it was all a wait-and-watch situation. “The pandemic also devalued much of our currency so our savings started getting depleted quickly,” he says. Theron, an automotive expert and Mandujano, who has a background in customer support, were stressed as the pressure was building up on them to get employed as soon as possible.
A rent-free home for two months
Now thanks to a Dubai-based real estate entrepreneur Simon Kennedy, they have got a home to stay free of rent for two months. Kennedy had recently announced a competition on LinkedIn where he said: “If you have lost your job during this crisis and are struggling to pay your rent and bills, I am offering one of my Dubai apartments for free for two months to help you get back on track.”
Those interested to win the offer would have to send a short video explaining their situation and how they would use the time in his apartment to turn things around for them. He received 1,000 applications within the next couple of days and finally chose Theron and his partner.
Choosing the winners
“Yesterday I opened my apartment to a young couple from South Africa who sold everything to move to Dubai in February, and are nearly out of money. They are both in the process of finding new positions despite the difficult conditions and will use the apartment to buy time to secure jobs and therefore their future here in Dubai,” wrote Simon.
He says it was a tough decision to choose, but finally, “I sensed that in this case I would be helping two people instead of one, and they both had a very clear strategy on how they would use the time to turn things around.”
Kennedy says the COVID-19 pandemic made him aware of the difficult market situation and prompted him to do something for those in need. “I have a studio in the Links Canal Apartments in the Greens and I told myself why not give someone the opportunity to build their lives again. The pandemic has also made things difficult for me as an entrepreneur – one of my start-ups, a female-only gym, had to close temporarily and the real estate brokerage suffered because there were practically no viewings possible during the lockdown. So, I understand what it takes to lose something.”
Even though Kennedy has had one apartment to offer, he has now gone a step further to cover the rent for six others for the same period, to buy them some time as well. “I would encourage all Dubai landlords and business owners to try and contribute in whatever way they can because there is so much need out there,’ he says.
He shortlisted 50 applicants from the 1000 entries and says the video from the South African couple stood out because they sent a creative video showing how strategic they were in their job search. “They were also very young and had sold off all their belongings to make a home in Dubai. I was moved by their story.”
Getting a space of their own
For Theron and his partner, getting an apartment rent free for two months has been too good to be true. “This is such a beautiful unit and it has done wonders to our mental health. The area is also beautiful and we go for our walks and it’s really helped us in more ways than one to find our own space and work towards our goals,” says Theron.
He says the situation has made many people in Dubai pack their bags and go home. “But we wanted to stay and keep pushing. So, it’s incredible that we got the help we wanted and I hope we can pay it forward one day when we are financially stable.”
Paying it forward
This pandemic has now made Simon Kennedy launch the Kennedy Towers Housing Foundation in Dubai where he and his brother Mark would be providing accommodation for those who need it the most. “We believe that accommodation is a basic human right and we want to help those in need during these challenging times.”