Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 August 2020

Stop and Help: how a Dubai Facebook group ended up helping 10,000 people in need

The kindness exchange has helped many families across the country since its inception in March

Dino and Wendy Isaac have lived in the UAE for almost 10 years.

Wendy works as a clerk in a construction company and Dino works as a waiter.

They have a combined monthly salary of Dh7,500, an amount that sustains them as well as their daughters, Dayne Noe, 4, and Danyne Marthini, eight months. As the family puts it, they live a simple life, budgeting so their children can live with them.

However, as the pandemic brought industries all over the world to a grinding halt earlier this year, both parents found themselves on temporary unpaid leave.

But, as the Isaac family's situation became precarious, a community initiative sprung to the rescue.

Stop and Help officially launched on March 22, 2020, with a single objective: to support families in need. The concept is pretty simple: families in the UAE that have lost their income can sign up to be connected to others, who are able to supply them with essentials such as food and other household items.

Starting as a Facebook group

The Harries family has been delivering food and supplies to families across Dubai. Heather Harries
The entire Harries family has been involved in the Stop and Help initiative. Heather Harries

Educator and founder of Stop and Help, Heather Harries, says the idea was inspired, in part, by the organic generosity of strangers.

“When borders started to shut down earlier this year, as an educator, I found myself supporting children whose parents were outside the country. As I started hearing about more children who needed help, I reached out to Dubai British School mums, and the reaction was instant ... I ended up with more people wanting to help than people who needed help.

“To help balance things out, I finally started a Facebook group. It was a place where kindness could take place,” she adds.

The initiative may have started in Dubai, but it’s now connecting families in other emirates as well. Today, the Facebook group has more than 10,600 followers, with more than 3,000 "kindness givers" lending their support.

In the span of three months, it has facilitated more than 6,000 grocery deliveries across the UAE, and supported more than 10,000 people who need help.

“I’m talking about households where both parents have lost jobs, families that have had no income for months, parents who don’t know when their next salary is coming in,” says Harries. As an educator, her Stop and Help programme is geared towards families with children. “Children under the age of 6 are especially vulnerable as a lack of nutritious food can have a life-long effect. So, if you are a parent having trouble putting food on the table, we will help you,” she says.

How it works, and how families have been able to 'graduate'

Due to the number of people who needed support – and the number of people wanting to help – Harries had to streamline the process to "match needs with kindness deeds". Today, families in need have to supply proof of employment termination. They are then connected with "kindness givers" who can opt to provide a single weekly shopping order, or four weekly care boxes over the course of a month.

All the interaction between the families goes through Stop and Help to ensure no unreasonable requests are received. In line with UAE government guidelines stating that no individual may send food directly from their house to another house, Stop and Help informs givers to only send items via online supermarket delivery services, direct to families vetted by the Stop and Help volunteers.

When Harries first came up with the concept, she decided on a maximum of four weeks of support for a family – “but that was before we realised that this would go on for months”. Today, families in need of help are supported for longer durations.

However, as the economy opens up once more and people resume jobs, families have been able to "graduate".

“These are people who we have been able to support for four or five weeks, and then they return to work and don’t need support any more. We give them the chance to say thank you to those who sent groceries and it is always amazing, with people sending drawings and smiling pictures telling us how much this meant to them.”

What happens when a "kindness giver" gets this thank you letter? “More often than not, they say ‘give me another family',” laughs Harries.

How those helped then volunteer

Families that have received help can send thank you messages and pictures to their 'kindness givers'. Courtesy of Stop and Help
Families that have received help can send thank you messages and pictures to their 'kindness givers'. Courtesy Stop and Help

Families who are back up on their feet also sometimes find a way to give back to show their appreciation, just like in the case of Isaac family. Wendy and Dino may still be on reduced wages, but they have now offered their assistance to the Stop and Help initiative, with Wendy lending her skills as a translator.

“This is such an important initiative at the moment when so many people are without salaries or on reduced salaries,” says Wendy. “It stops people from having to worry about where their next meal is coming from. At the same time, it’s about connecting families. It is a reminder of the kindness and generosity of strangers. When you get this package, you know that you are not alone, that there are people who care for you, want to help you.”

Harries believes the initiative has played role in connecting families from different financial backgrounds in the UAE. “I have a theory that everybody really wants to be kind, to do something positive,” she says. “But they’re not sure how to. All we are doing is showing them how they can contribute to another person’s wellbeing.”

Just this week, the initiative reached another high as it partnered with Emirates Loto, which is pledging to assist 25 families a day until the end of 2020.

Meanwhile, the past three months have left Harries with numerous anecdotes, happy memories, and pictures of relieved families and smiling children.

“I’m learning something new every day. For some people, the less you have, the less you ask. There are some parents who request items for their children, without thinking about their needs. It’s the beauty of human nature," she says.

“Another lovely thing – even expats who have lost their jobs in the UAE are stepping up to help. And it’s snowballing; I constantly have calls from people asking what they can do. The entire Dubai community has pulled together for this one.”

Updated: July 9, 2020 03:59 PM

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