Take me to mum

Immediately after the pandemic was declared and countries began imposing travel restrictions, several parents in the UAE were in a dilemma after their children were stranded overseas. With colleges closing and hostels shutting down, many students were quite literally out on the streets forced to fend for themselves. The lucky ones who had relatives close by moved in with them, but in many cases friends and relatives too could not help as their apartment associations refused to give access to non residents.

Two mothers in the UAE, Dr Nita Salam and Priya Feroz knew this only too well. Their children were students in India but were unable to return to the UAE as flights were suspended.

"Both our sons were stranded in India and we were desperate to get them back here," says Dr Nita.

They knew they were not alone. Keen to help others who were in the same boat as them, the duo set up an online group so that they could address the issue together on a single platform.

"Mothers are the best advocates for their children and so we decided to do everything possible to bring our kids back," says Priya. In July they formed a Whatsapp group called Take me to Mom and a Facebook page where they provided information on government procedures, regularly kept updating members on the changes in rules and documentation processes for getting the children back home. At its peak there were around 300 mothers in the groups.

Dr Nita (left)and Priya started a group on social media to help bring back kids stuck overseas
Ahmed Ramzan

"It was quite a rollercoaster ride. Some parents had to apply more than 15 times for approvals." A major challenge was staying up to date with the procedures and rules that were being updated frequently. "We had to be alert and constantly in touch with officials to be up to date and share the information," says Dr Nita. One child with determination wasn’t allowed to board a flight as his Covid test validity had expired. Another was unable to fly as there was a minor error in a document. In all such cases, the duo and a core team spent hours connecting with government authorities, airport officials and doctors to sort out the issues and ensure that the children arrived safely.

"One child was detected Covid positive just a few hours before boarding a flight; there was nothing we could do but get her admitted in a government hospital in India. Her mother was totally distraught but we checked on her every day to support her emotionally, until the child arrived weeks later," says Nita.

With regulations easing, those needing help has decreased drastically, they say. "The initiative ended earlier this month but we are willing to offer help if anyone approaches us. This movement is a testimony that focused, goal-centric action can bring excellent results especially with the support of so many lovely people. We were a no-noise team.... our strength was authenticity and we went the extra mile to ensure that," says Nita. The 300-odd parents who benefitted will attest to that.

Stop and help

When Covid-19 reared its ugly head in March, British expat Heather Harries, 52, took it upon herself to look after children whose parents were stuck outside the country due to flight cancellations. What started off by giving books, toys, cakes, etc., grew into an initiative which found donors for families who needed help with their daily needs.

"The small band of children I was looking after kept growing until I needed more mums to help. So I reached out to the Dubai British School PTA. Within a few days I had more mums than children, so I set up the Stop and Help Facebook page where families in need could register, and we could match donors to recipients," says Heather, a Dubai resident.

By August the group has helped more than 28,000 people. To date the team has arranged to deliver groceries equalling over 500,000 meals across the UAE while supporting many families with baby items.

With more than 50 volunteers from different nationalities, Heather terms the operations of the group as "messy management". "We were split almost equally into two teams: one that verified and organised information on families that needed support, and a marketing team that worked on campaign ideas while managing the social media," she says.

Heather got busy helping kids whose parents were stuck abroad due to travel restrictions
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The team works round the clock to ensure that the requirements of needy families are met. "For instance, we gave a crib to a mother who could not afford one, then there were several families who had run out of supplies and could not afford to buy so we arranged to have them delivered. We estimate we’ve put over 7,000 nuclear families back on their feet."

Heather hopes to develop more meaningful CSR projects with key stakeholders across the business community. They have also tied up with laundryheap.ae, which collects pre-loved baby items and sanitises them before giving it to a new family.

The resume writer

Jackson Baker, a student at American Community School Abu Dhabi, was scrolling through social media when he chanced upon jobseekers posting their resumés. Jackson perused a few resumés and quickly realised that most of them were poorly drafted with many errors. "I felt I could do my bit for them by helping them fix their CVs so they could better present themselves and hopefully land a job," says the 11th grader, an Australian expat.

He set up a Facebook page (facebook.com/AbuDhabiRI), created some templates and began reaching out to people offering to refine their resumés free of cost.

Since starting the initiative in May, Jackson has helped more than 30 people. "On average it takes me about two hours to completely rework and fine-tune a resumé," he says. "Initially I wasn’t able to complete many since I was busy with schoolwork, but over the summer break I’ve done a lot more, and through trial and error have greatly increased the quality of each resumé."

Jackson helps jobseekers fine tune their CVs
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The response has been heart-warming. "Majority of people are unemployed – some who have jobs just want me to fine-tune their CV – and they are truly appreciative and are grateful for helping improve their chances of landing a job during these times.

"Working on this project has been such a humbling experience; it has given me a sense of gratefulness for the privileges I have, and the realisation that I can use them to help others," he says.

Bags for kids

When the pandemic put paid to plans of travelling during the summer vacation, 17-year-old Kshitij Dhariwal decided to channel his energies to good use – collecting used but in good condition school bags for needy children. Joining hands with the UAE Jain community that includes some 250 volunteers engaged in community service activities, Kshitij organised the pickup of bags from homes. Donors were requested to clean and deliver the bag either to his place or drop them off at a central location from where they would be collected. "In case they are unable to do so, we – the adults in our group – would go to their homes and collect the bags," he says. "We sanitise the bags, air them on our balcony for a day or two before arranging to donate them to needy children."

Kshitij has also been involved in a clothes collection and beach clean-up drive and in packing and distributing groceries for those who were struggling during the trying times.

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"Since the pandemic I’ve collected around 2,500 pieces of clothing; our group has collected 20,000," says the grade 12 student of Delhi Private School, Sharjah.

Being part of this initiative has changed Kshitij’s perspective of life quite a bit. "Apart from feeling humbled and enjoying the sense of satisfaction and fulfilment of seeing a schoolbag being put to use once again, I also feel that this is a sustainable way of living – by channelising such things from ending up in landfills," he says.

"We have also become a bridge for many people who want to contribute but do not have the means or opportunities to do so."

Those who have used schoolbags to give away, can contact kshitijd03@yahoo.com.

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