Dubai: They keep alive memories of college days and display a spirit of youth and celebration even in their 50s and 60s. They are also known for volunteering for the community in the UAE and also back home in India.
These are the members of AKCAF, an apex body of alumni associations of over 100 colleges from the south Indian state of Kerala registered under the Community Development Authority (CDA) of Dubai.
When they recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of AKCAF (All Kerala Colleges Alumni Federation) - the 80,000-strong members of AKCAF Association found a novel way to give back to the community this time - by gifting a Dubai vacation to the mothers of 25 low-income workers here.
“From a non-registered group of friends from Kerala to a unique association of college alumni friends recognised by the government here, AKCAF has come a long way,” Paul T Joseph, the current president of AKCAF, told Gulf News.
“This successful journey was made possible by the continuous and selfless services of AKCAF Association members to the UAE community which have been widely appreciated by government authorities of the UAE and India.”
At the helm of AKCAF for the second time in the past two decades, Joseph, 70, said age is no bar for AKCAF members to cherish their college days and friendships and give back to their home country and their second home, the UAE.
“As we celebrate the silver jubilee of AKCAF this year, we decided to make it special for the mothers of 25 blue-collar workers from Kerala who could not even dream of bringing their mothers to the UAE,” he added.
Most deserving candidates
The association ran an intense selection process to vet the most deserving candidates from over 500 applications it received through its social media channels and a radio programme. The member colleges of AKCAF joined hands with some sponsors to fly in 25 mothers for a five-day stay and sightseeing in Dubai.
“We looked into the salaries of the applicants and how long they have lived away without seeing their mothers in their hometowns back in Kerala,” said Deepu AS, general-secretary of AKCAF.
“Some of their stories made our eyes well up.”
Among them was the story of Befathima Yousuf, who could not see her son Abdul Navas, a construction worker here, for five years.
Another touching story was of Elsy Thomas, whose son Mathew, a driver, sought to fulfil his late father’s dream of bringing his wife to the UAE when he used to work here years ago.
“The emotional reunion of those mothers and their sons made us feel grateful for what we have done. We are equally happy for the other mothers and their children as well. All were happy and excited about visiting the world-famous Burj Khalifa and other landmark sites here and enjoying a two-hour limousine ride across Dubai. The beauty of it was that most of their children also experienced all these for the first time though they had been working here,” said Deepu.
In a dreamland
Agnes Joosa, whose daughter Jancy Agnes Harry is a security guard here, said: “I thought that there was no world for me outside my kitchen as I rarely went out of my home town. So, for me, this is the best blessing I have ever received.”
Asia Puzhakkal, whose son Mashood Puzhakkal, was lucky to bring her over here, said: “When he first informed me about this trip, I thought he was just kidding. Then I realised that yes, it is true. It was my first flight journey, an unforgettable trip. I could visit the places which even my children couldn’t till now.”
Ramani Amma, the mother of Ratheesh Sasidharan, said: “I found it difficult to believe whether it is a dream or reality. We came to this dreamland after travelling thousands of miles. We were able to visit almost all famous places here, enjoyed the hospitality of good people around here, thanks to the Lord Almighty and thanks to AKCAF Association members.”
Tribute to mothers
The visiting mothers were honoured at the grand Silver Jubilee event on September 24 which was clubbed with AKCAF’s annual celebration of Onam, the famous harvest festival of Kerala that is widely celebrated by more than 1 million Keralites in the UAE and their friends from various countries.
All the mothers were honoured with golden hand-woven shawls called ‘Ponnada’. They were also presented with mementoes, gold coins and gift hampers at the honouring session titled ‘Mathruvandanam, a Tribute to Mothers’, attended by thousands of AKCAF members and families and people from various communities and departments.
Malayalam poet and lyricist, Vayalar Sarath Chandra Varma delivered a special message paying tribute to the mothers who played a perhaps silent but significant role in the lives of their children.
Displaying the unwavering competitive spirit from their college days, members of various college alumni groups presented several cultural and entertainment programmes. A souvenir detailing the 25 years’ journey of AKCAF was released at the event titled AKCAF Ponnonakkaazhcha 2023 which also featured a mega music concert by famous Malayalam playback singer, actor and director Vineeth Sreenivasan.
The visiting mothers were treated as guests at the event and they savoured a sumptuous Onasadhya, a festive vegetarian feast with 25 items, that was served to 7,000 attendees.
“The overall experience was the best Onam gift for those mothers and their children,” said Venkit Mohan, vice-president of AKCAF.
He attributed the success of the event to the hard work of the members of the Board of Directors and around 350 organising committee members led by programme general convenor Bindu Nair.
Major volunteering activities by AKCAF:
COVID-19 response in the UAE:
-Launched “AKCAF Cares” programme.
-Transported COVID-19 patients to quarantine centres and hospitals.
-Disinfected Dubai streets.
-Provided provisions and medical supplies to quarantined areas.
-Organised senior citizen support drives.
-Arranged food and medicine supplies.
-Offered 24/7 call centre for remote doctor consultation.
-Organised subsidised and free chartered flights for Indian expats in need.
-Collaborated with various government authorities for COVID relief works.
Ramadan Iftar kit distribution
-Contributed to iftar distribution in labour accommodations in collaboration with CDA, alumni associations, and sponsors for several years.
-Distributed around 400,000 iftar kits among labour accommodations in Dubai after the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.
Kerala Flood Relief (2018 and 2019)
-Acted as control rooms connecting victims with rescue teams.
-Sent food and essentials to flood-affected areas.
-Provided relief with support from the Emirates Red Crescent Authority.
-Provided physical help through members vacationing back home.