Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 3 July 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Call of duty: UAE's coronavirus volunteers tell of pride - and urge others to get involved

From the Covid-19 hotline to the front lines in screening centres, residents of all nationalities have joined the fight against the virus

Volunteers have told of their pride at taking on crucial roles in the fight against the coronavirus.

From taking calls from worried residents on the Covid-19 hotline to working in testing centres, thousands have given their time and dedication.

On Thursday, the government said 18,740 had signed up to date - and said there was space for more to join.

Volunteers give at least six hours of their time each week to their designated unit and anyone close to patients is tested almost every week.

Their varied life experience, language skills and dedication all make them crucial to bringing the outbreak under control.

The hard-working couple

Among those on the front lines is husband and wife team Walaa Mazen Al Saed, 30, and her husband Ammar Adam, 38.

Ms Al Saed volunteers at the testing centre in Al Bahia, outside Abu Dhabi, while her husband volunteers at Mussaffah screening centre, one of the busiest in the country. Medics are working to test the 330,000 people who live in Mussaffah, which is the size of a small city.

They have three children and their youngest is not yet two years old.

Walaa Mazen Al Saed and her three children. She and her husband Ammar have volunteered in two separate Abu Dhabi testing centres to process thousands of residents getting checked for Covid-19. Courtesy: Al Saed family
Walaa Mazen Al Saed and her three children Courtesy: Al Saed family

Ms Al Saed registers residents as they arrive for testing and sends them to booths, where medics take swabs.

“I have been living abroad for thirteen years and the last time I visited Syria was five years ago," she said.

"What I would do for Syria, I would gladly do for this country, which has taken me in and has given me everything.”

We are one community and if we were are too scared to volunteer or to help then there would be no one

Ammar Adam, Mussaffah testing centre

Unlike many volunteers, she works at the centre every week day.

“I register them in the computer and print out the stickers. The process takes a few seconds," she said.

She began in April and to date she has been tested ten times, given her potential exposure to carriers.

Her husband works for a government authority from 7.30am to 3.30pm. After work, he heads for Mussaffah, where he volunteers until 2.00am, given much of the testing is now carried out at night.

“We have lived in this country for a very long time, I have been here 17 years," he said.

"We are one community and if we were are too scared to volunteer or to help then there would be no one."

A nanny watches their children while they are at work.

“These are special circumstances and this is the least I can do for the country, to finally be able to give back a small portion of what they have given us," he said.

The CEO

Sanker Sirkumar, 40, is chief executive of a health and safety consultancy, Green World Group, with offices in UAE, Saudi Arabia, India and Africa.

A lifelong trainer of people in dangerous fields, he volunteered to clean ambulances at first, but was instead offered a place at the Covid-19 field hospital, at Dubai Parks and Resorts.

“I was ready to do anything,” he said.

He manages registration for people arriving at the field hospital, which was set up to take pressure off the city's medical facilities.

"Volunteering for a field hospital was not by compulsion, it was rather on humanitarian and passionate grounds, as a way of giving back to this great nation and its people."

Sanker Srikumar
Sanker Sirkumar manages patients as they arrive at the Dubai Parks and Resorts field hospital

Mr Sirkumar, who has lived in the Emirates for 18 years, has stayed in a hotel near the testing centre for one month, to ensure his wife and two children were kept safe.

“I am not worried about my wife and children, I Skype with them all the time," he said.

“They were fully supportive of the fact that I have to stay away from them for a few weeks. They too feel that the UAE is their second home."

He said he was confident of a bright future, despite the economic challenges ahead.

"We are in this together and together we shall overcome," he said.

"The future might look challenging, however, it is the spirit to succeed that will see us moving forward stronger,” he said.

"My message to new volunteers would be this: the willingness to volunteer should come from within and by thinking of what you can do for the country."

A reassuring voice

Marse Macatangay, 42, from the Philippines, works at the government's helpline, Istijaba, or Response. She answers countless calls each day, often from people anxious about the virus.

They ask her whether they should get tested, listens as they reel off various symptoms, and advises them on what to do.

Her job is crucial, ensuring the people who need to be tested are identified.

“I want to be of help to the community and I think I am helping, without putting myself and family at risk," said the mother of two, who worked in recruitment until recently, and moved to the Emirates in 2009.

Marse Macatangay
Marse works on the Covid-19 helpline

“I am here to help and even though I cannot help financially, this is the service I can give."

At the beginning of the outbreak, the centre in Abu Dhabi would receive hundreds of calls per day. Now the numbers are fewer.

"Before there was a lot of panic. People didn't know what to do. Now we get around 12 to 15 per day," she said.

She volunteers every day of the week from 7.00 am to 1.00pm.

"We are also tested for Covid every week," she said.

"It is safe and we are one team."

The paramedic dispatcher

“Would it be right to leave a country in their time of need?” said Mohamed Youssef, from Egypt.

The father of one was an ambulance coordinator at a private hospital when the virus hit. He was placed on leave, and straight away signed up for the testing centre team.

“When they stopped work, I thought there was no better way to serve the country than volunteering,” Mr Youssef, 31.

He volunteers at a screening centre on the Corniche, registering residents as they arrive.

“The country is now in need and we can not leave it," he said.

"In regular times, we were all living here comfortably because of the UAE and we continue to live comfortably, in spite of the circumstances."

Leading from the front

Ismail Al Bloushi, from Comoros Islands, was the first person you would see when you arrived at Sharjah's main screening centre.

The 35-year-old was part of the 'triage' team that manages potential patients at Sharjah's main testing centre.

The process divides possible patients with symptoms from those who are lower risk. The job is crucial, as it saves time and avoids possible carriers mingling with healthy people who are being tested.

He has volunteered in various causes - "ever since the days of the Blackberry" or at least 2013, he said.

"But this time it is different."

The father of a two-year-old daughter, who works coordinating social media for the Sharjah government's media team, said the experience has been rewarding.

He volunteered for two months, before returning to work recently, in a role that involves spreading public awareness.

"It is one of the best experiences ever, because when this is over, you will look back and remember that you have helped the UAE fight the enemy - you would have helped to end Covid-19 here," he said.

"It was scary at first, but if we all think like that, then no one will fight this virus."

Updated: June 5, 2020 08:30 AM

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