Covid: Inspirational women volunteers during the pandemic in UAE

By Zubina Ahmed

Published: Wed 10 Mar 2021, 1:25 AM

There’s no escaping the fact that the pandemic has taken over our lives. We didn’t anticipate how the world would change but at the same time, it helped us connect, collaborate and continue with our daily functional roles and responsibilities. On the occasion of International Women’s day, we showcase stories of four women in the UAE who went beyond their usual work roles to volunteer and lift community spirits during the pandemic.

26-year-old Mariam Al Samadi and 23-year-old Anan Helwih who started their initiative DXB Women on Instagram to support struggling female-led businesses across Dubai during the pandemic. The Palestinian Americans friends have been Dubai residents for more than 10 years. “We started this initiative way back in May when the pandemic was at its peak. We noticed that some of the local small businesses lacked the social media presence. Since we have studied marketing and digital media and had that expertise, we wanted to step up and promote them. It was just the right time to create something together where we can support other local women-run businesses”, says Anan. The duo started DXB women by organizing a lot of entrepreneurial women meetups to connect local women running their own businesses. They help in the marketing and social media of businesses’ unique products and overall experience. “Usually, once a week, on social media, we have people shout out their favourite businesses. It’s just a whole day where people can share and promote their own businesses or their favourite ones. It allows us to raise awareness about all the businesses out there and that really helps them in getting the traction they need” adds Mariam. Besides that, they helped these women manage their social media posts so that they can have a bigger presence online. “A lot of small businesses don’t really have the equipment, or they don’t really understand the social-media marketing gimmicks and that’s when we can come in whether that is photography needs or helping them with their websites, SEO and things like that”, adds Mariam.

52-year-old Heather Harries who started a kindness exchange initiative Stop and Help back in March 2020 with a focus on children’s welfare during the pandemic. A no-cash programme, it saw thousands of good samaritans sponsor groceries of families struggling to make ends meet. What started as a grocery kindness exchange selfless community initiative is now in the final stages of becoming a full-fledged charity with a focus on children’s welfare. That effort has matched more than 6,000 families across the UAE with individuals who want to help support them and their children with gifts of groceries and household supplies. Heather, a former education consultant spoke to Khaleej Times about her mission. “Stop and Help aims to cover everything from food, education for every child to legal identity support, baby registries, and mental health solutions. The drive is to ensure that as we move forward, every child has their right to documentation, education, health, happiness, recognized birthdays and if children grow up in the right way, the future is much brighter". Stop and help has a Facebook page with about 17k members, an Instagram page with over 8k followers and a website. Those in need will need to register with the group, who will verify their identities and circumstances. “Quite simply you fill in a form to say please help me or you fill in a form to say please let me help and we have a Helpdesk with volunteers to check and validate if those needs are correct" says Heather. This women’s day, Heather proudly claims there are 40 incredible women running Stop and Help together. “ I am not the only woman behind Stop and Help, we have a team of over 40 incredible women who worked together to achieve miracles. All these women are caring, compassionate, driven and together we have supported more than 100,000 individuals with nearly 4 million meals on the table.

Meet 22-year-old Esraa Al Agha who has been recognized by the Frontline Heroes Office for going to exceptional lengths to safeguard people’s wellbeing during the pandemic. The Jordanian expat is a medical student at Dubai Medical College. She lives in Ajman with her two younger brothers and her mother, who is battling cancer. Prior to the pandemic, she went to college in the mornings and gave private maths tutoring in the evenings to earn extra income for her family. Her Covid-19 volunteering journey started when she responded to a Takatof message calling for volunteers to support the medical work at Al Qassimi Hospital in Sharjah. She knew it would be a unique opportunity to contribute to the fight against the virus. Esraa signed up for daily shifts, mainly as a liaison between patients’ families and the healthcare teams. She counselled relatives who were restricted from visiting loved ones. “ By the time I was supposed to volunteer at a quarantine hotel, I had a variety of responsibilities such as taking care of patients’ psychological state while working in shifts to make sure all quarantined patients have the medicine and machines that they need. One important part of my job was to stay in touch with the patient’s family. “Imagine calling a father to tell him that his seven-year-old daughter was infected with Covid-19, I did my best to stay calm and reassure him that she was in the best hands. From Ajman Preventative Medicine Centre to Al Qassimi Hospital in Sharjah and multiple medical facilities around the country, Esraa is among the countless healthcare professionals and volunteers who have been recognised by the Frontline Heroes Office for going to exceptional lengths to safeguard people’s wellbeing during the pandemic. The challenges in her job are many, but this International Women’s day she encourages women considering pursuing a career in her field.“ This is a wonderful and humane profession that every woman should have the opportunity to experience. There is beauty in the amount of empathy needed to help patients through their struggles while ensuring their successful recovery, concludes Esraa.

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