Combating coronavirus: How this unemployed Filipina feeds hundreds of jobless expats in UAE
She took on the initiative after seeing people, made redundant due to the pandemic, line up across the street for free iftar meals.
If you're looking for a hero without a cape, head down to the Patchi building in Dubai's Muraqqabat neighbourhood.
There, in the sweltering heat, Filipino expat Feby Cacher Baguisa-Dela Peña has been feeding hundreds of jobless residents since the beginning of Eid Al Fitr this year - despite being unemployed herself.
She took on the initiative after seeing people, made redundant due to the pandemic, line up across the street for free iftar meals. "The thing is they were just getting a coupon that they needed to redeem at various restaurants. I said to myself: why not give them an instant meal? That's what made me decided to do something."
Though unemployed since 2017, the mum-of-three has been making a living by cooking Filipino food and selling them to her "fellow kabayans". Her initial plan was to cook for the first three days of Eid, but when she saw how many people kept turning up, she knew she couldn't stop.
"It started with 200 people, then it became 250, then 400. Today, we gave away more than 500 packs. It's not enough," she said, as a steady stream of people - of various nationalities - continued to approach the corner where Feby and a couple of compatriots have set up little wagons from which they distribute the meals of rice, chicken adobo and egg. "It's a famous Filipino dish that doesn't get spoilt easily - which is important, given the current weather," she explained.
When the hot meals run out, Feby and her volunteers distribute bags of uncooked rice and eggs. "I don't want them to come here and go home empty-handed," she said. "At least, this way, they'll have something. I cannot imagine them sleeping on empty stomachs. That's what is pushing me to keep doing this."
The process is arduous. "After the day's distribution, I take a shower, feed my kids, then run to the grocery and start preparing for the next day. It never stops. From 1am to 5am, I cook the first batches of chicken. Then, from 8am till 3pm, we prepare everything and cook at the same time. It started with 30 kilos of chicken - but it's become 60 kilos of chicken a day now."
The expat, who has lived in the UAE for the last 12 years, said she's extremely thankful for the many generous people who have been reaching out in recent weeks - including two Emiratis who stopped by to help on Sunday. One of them, Majid Al Ansari, declined to have his photo clicked but said he was happy to help out, as he continued to greet residents and distribute bottles of water and 5kg bags of rice, no questions asked.
"I'd have never imagined that people like them would come to help out," said a grateful Feby, who started the project with her personal weekly allowance of Dh500. The money was over on the first day itself, but when her husband realised how many people were showing up, he understood the need to keep going.
"This is the time to work together and have unity - the perfect time to not think of ourselves but of others," shared Feby. "You don't need to be rich or famous or have political connections to help others. You just need to have humanity."
On Saturday, the Good Samaritan received a surprise from Emirates Loto, who have pledged to provide her with resources to cook another 10,000 meals.
The Filipina said she intends to continue the initiative for as long as there are people to support her. "I know I cannot change the world, but I can make a difference to the individuals coming to me. I can give them one less problem to worry about."
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