UAE: 3,000 flood-hit neighbours help each other, thanks to startup’s solution

We matchmade people within the same buildings so they could stay safely inside and share resources, Rana Hajirasouli, founder of the company, said

by

Nasreen Abdulla

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Photos: Supplied
Photos: Supplied

Published: Sat 27 Apr 2024, 2:46 PM

Last updated: Sun 28 Apr 2024, 3:59 PM

A women-led startup mobilised and distributed extra resources that some people had, to meet the necessities of their neighbours who have been affected badly by the recent storm. Rana Hajirasouli, a PhD researcher and founder of the company 'The Surpluss,' helped over 3,000 people in the aftermath of the recent torrential rain that hit the UAE.

“I was working from home when I saw the advisory,” she said. “I was trained as a climate expert. I recognised the green hues in the sky before the storm set off – it was a supercell thunderstorm. I was concerned about what it would leave in its wake. I knew resources would temporarily be unavailable if roads were flooded and vehicles would struggle to supply to certain areas.”


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That is when she, along with her colleagues, decided to use their knowledge and experience to help the UAE. They came up with a Whatsapp group to allow people to share resources with their neighbours. She said, the group saw many examples of selflessness during the floods.


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“There was one particular member who had a physical ailment herself but made her way up 15 flights of stairs to help a little girl on oxygen,” said Rana. “The girl was feeling very overwhelmed, as her mother was stuck on the roads. The member had fed the girl with her own last bit of groceries, and read her stories until her mother arrived hours later. Another person carried a huge load of groceries for his neighbours and took just a small packet of noodles for himself.”

How it worked

The Surpluss Resource Sharing Group had a simple idea — people who had a surplus of items could help their neighbours who needed those items. This would ensure that people could stay safe during the floods.

“We put up our poster in a few Facebook groups with a QR code to join the Whatsapp group,” she said. “It said, if you need something, write it on a piece of paper and leave it outside your door and check with neighbours within your immediate proximity. If you have something extra, like towels for the flooding, or grocery items, keep a note outside your door. It seemed intuitive enough to follow and also offered people an opportunity to get to know their neighbours and know they are not alone.”

Almost overnight, more than 800 people joined the Whatsapp group. “People were exchanging messages, surprised to find their own neighbours on the group, and very quickly, the word had spread,” she said. “We even made smaller WhatsApp groups for some of the buildings tenants, and we allocated a Surpluss ambassador to help meet the needs of those communities and to leave a lasting legacy even when this situation passes.”

The requests soon started pouring in. From nappies to food and water, there were plenty of things that people needed. "We matchmade people within the same buildings so they could stay safely inside and share resources," said Rana. “Over the course of 48 hours, people were joining and, in solidarity, offering their support. Resources were running out and the community wanted to support each other.”

Apart from sharing resources, people were also ready to help out in many other ways. “Members were volunteering to go nearby to supermarkets and distribute," she said. “We do not have a charity license, so we were strictly against receiving money of any kind – but members were extremely eager to help the many who were running out of essentials. So, we asked them to locate a small supermarket of their choice and order online with them. This would also help small businesses recover economically, and benefit the community at large.”

A buzzing microcity

The group soon became a buzzing microcity of its own. Many members stepped up to deliver the goods to affected areas with their 4X4 vehicles, while others worked tirelessly behind the screens to ensure all of the requests were getting captured to matchmake.

“We knew we couldn’t afford to make a simple mistake – after all, vigilance and safety was key,” said Rana. “We ensured the volunteers had access to a community of doctors that had stepped up to offer free telehealth advice until they could get to the clinic. They were advised to take tetanus shots as a preventative measure in case they were cut by any objects in the flood waters, as well as take hygiene measures. Equipped with rosters, databanks, checklists of families in need, we reallocating the surplus supplies to on-ground PPE-equipped volunteers.”

According to Rana, the core focus of this community was to make sure not a single family or person was left behind – whether they were stranded and needed a lift home, a place to rest their head for a few hours, or some groceries delivered.

“Going forward, I think many of us will remain friends for a very long time and a member suggested we schedule a meet up to share a meal in the coming weeks,” she said.

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