While an unseen, hard-to-avoid novel coronavirus disease upended the entire world and overnight changed the concepts of wellness, economy and livelihood, a few members of the society selflessly offered their services in the UAE to keep the contagion at bay. Frontline heroes such as healthcare professionals are the Covid-19 pandemic’s greatest heroes in the UAE.
Fortunately, a sizeable group of people, who have little or no medical training, have successfully managed to save thousands of lives in the UAE.
Social workers — both independent and those connected to community groups — have played a vital role in resolving major medical, social and economic challenges caused by the viral outbreak.
From organising mass testing initiatives in neighbourhoods to distributing free packages of food and other essentials to homes of Covid-19 patients, social workers have been instrumental in reaching out to the masses.
While food distribution is still a work in progress, social workers have also arranged for legal and financial support for thousands who wished to be repatriated to their home countries.
Here are some examples of the stellar work done by social workers.
Community testing initiative
A large group of community leaders, social workers, and volunteers came forward to assist local authorities to run pre-emptive medical check-ups for the economically vulnerable residents of Naif neighbourhood in Dubai towards the end of March.
Indian social worker Naseer Vatanapally, who had contracted Covid-19 as a frontline healthcare worker, said: “The pre-emptive measures were an incredible initiative of the Dubai Health Authority (DHA). It saved thousands of lives during the early days of the viral outbreak.”
Lockdown restrictions were enforced on Naif and almost all residents were tested for Covid-19. Naseer said: “These are shop workers, and many of them are not educated. Local authorities promptly swung into action after they expressed their fears about the contagion.”
The Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre (KMCC) also played a major role in conducting community Covid-19 tests.
Food distribution drives
Food distribution drives have been in progress since the onset of the viral outbreak.
“We were a team of 300 volunteers, who distributed freshly-made food packets and kits to various localities and families in quarantine. In Naif alone, we had distributed 30,000 hot food packets every day. We had distributed 5,000 grocery kits in March and April,” said Advocate Ibrahim Khaleel, secretary and legal centre chairman of the Dubai chapter of KMCC.
The Abu Dhabi wing of KMCC had distributed up to 600 food kits twice a day in buildings in and around the Madinat Zayed Shopping Centre and Electra Street.
“We had distributed cooked food from restaurants to people in quarantine and those in the low-income bracket,” said Abdul Rahman of KMCC’s Kasaragod chapter in Abu Dhabi.
Other notable initiatives included Box of Hope, a community programme started by Harmeek Singh, a Dubai-based businessman, who teamed up with the Dubai Municipality, UAE Food Bank and several humanitarian and charitable organisations, to provide free meal boxes to the labour camps of quarantined blue-collar workers.
The Dar Al Ber Society had distributed over 130,000 meals to workers at various labour accommodations in the UAE in March and April during lockdown restrictions.
All-woman group walk the extra mile
Run by 44 women, the KMCC woman’s wing provided food kits and psychological support to homemakers whose husbands were in quarantine facilities after they had tested Covid-19 positive. The group had reached out to around 50 families and individuals in March and April. Safiya Moideen, the president of the KMCC Women’s Wing, said: “Homemakers, especially those with small children and whose husbands have tested Covid-19 positive, were too scared to ask for help.”
Lending helping hand for repatriation
In collaboration with diplomatic missions and community associations, social workers across the UAE set up help desks and launched awareness campaigns to assist those wishing to return to their home country amid the viral outbreak. As the Indian government launched the Vande Bharat repatriation mission, the demand for tickets outstripped the supply, as there weren’t enough flights to take distressed Indians back home.
However, thanks to charter flights organised by community groups and private companies, several hundreds of thousands of stranded tourists, including those sent on furloughs, labourers, medical emergency cases, and pregnant women, were able to return home to India.
The KMCC, Indian Association Sharjah, Indian Association Ajman, Malayalee Arts and Sports Cultural Centre (MASCA), All Kerala Colleges Alumni Federation, UAE PRO Association, and All Kerala Pravasi Association were at the forefront organising the repatriation flights.