x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Al Ain fire victims helped by community

Fundraising effort eases plight after Al Ain house fire kills mother and son and wipes out family's possessions.

Fundraising effort eases plight of Ahmed Khalil Shaheen and his extended family just in time after they were forced to move out of a hotel after a house fire killed his wife and son and wiped out the family's possessions.
Fundraising effort eases plight of Ahmed Khalil Shaheen and his extended family just in time after they were forced to move out of a hotel after a house fire killed his wife and son and wiped out the family's possessions.

AL AIN // Two envelopes - one pink, one white - signalled a community's support for a family whose lives were torn apart by a devastating house fire.

The pink envelope contained photos of 10-year-old girls from Al Ain English Speaking School (AAESS) with a sewing machine; the girls stitched together a collection of bags last week and sold them over the weekend - one of many fundraising efforts for the Shaheen family.

The white envelope contained the proceeds of those efforts - about Dh20,000 in cash to ease the family's financial plight. Both envelopes were handed over at an emotional ceremony in Al Ain last night.

Tahrir Shaheen, 29, and her four-year-old son died in the fire in Al Jimi in the early hours of May 28, after she rushed back into the flames to try to rescue the little boy.

The death toll would have been higher but for the bravery of Mrs Shaheen's husband, Ahmed Khalil Shaheen, 30, a Jordanian, who smashed a hole in the wall of the blazing building with his 4x4 vehicle and helped to rescue 13 women and a nine-month-old baby trapped unconscious in the flames and smoke.

But the family lost everything: a mother and son, their home, all their possessions.

Nurses and staff at Tawam Hospital, residents of the Oasis Village residential compound, staff at Al Ain Mall, schoolgirls from AAESS and other community members read about the family's plight in The National last week. Hundreds of e-mails asking for donations were sent out and fliers were printed by those who were touched by the tragedy.

Sandy Jaloudi, a Palestinian American nurse, was moved to tears. She called her friend Seham Manna, also Palestinian American, and they decided to take action. In one week, through the donations of about 20 individuals, they raised a "significant" amount of money.

"I called Seham in tears and told her about what happened," said Ms Jaloudi, who is organising an NGO along with Mrs Manna to care for cancer patients. "She was at a meeting at Al Ain Mall and spread the word. We had to do something."

Last night in Al Ain, both women met members of the Shaheen family to give them the two envelopes.

As Mrs Manna's husband, Dr Joseph Manna, handed them over to Khalil Shaheen, 75, Tahrir's father, Ms Jaloudi said, "This is nothing compared to what you have suffered."

The elderly Mr Shaheen kissed and hugged Dr Manna, and said: "What you have done for us means a great deal. You are all like my daughters and sons. Please thank everyone that has contributed for me. They are all like angels."

The donations could not have been more timely for the Shaheen family as yesterday they had to leave the Al Ain hotel they were staying in because they were unable to pay, and returned to their gutted home. The Red Crescent Society had paid for the family to stay at the hotel for five nights.

"We had enough money to pay for an extra night, which we did on Saturday, but we were asked to leave today," Mr Shaheen said.

There is more help along the way, said Ms Jaloudi. "There is a fundraiser to come and additional efforts are being organised. Our goal is to raise enough money to pay the family's rent for a year."

A number of people have donated household items and clothing to help the family to get back on their feet, which will be handed over once they have rented a home, for which the Zakat Fund has pledged Dh45,000 towards rent once they find a suitable house.

ealghalib@thenational.ae