Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 9 July 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus: how a WhatsApp group is helping feed thousands in Abu Dhabi

UAE Relief Initiative has helped feed people who have lost their jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic

Aamer Al Yafei, an Emirati from Abu Dhabi, set up a WhatsApp group to help thousands of people who could not afford to feed themselves. Victor Besa / The National 
Aamer Al Yafei, an Emirati from Abu Dhabi, set up a WhatsApp group to help thousands of people who could not afford to feed themselves. Victor Besa / The National 

An Emirati is using social media to unite communities who wish to help others during the coronavirus outbreak.

Now, hundreds of individuals, who are part of a WhatsApp group, are helping the most vulnerable survive the pandemic by feeding them.

It all started a couple of months ago when pangs of guilt began to haunt Aamer Al Yafei.

He was safe and healthy, in a secure and well-paid job, while thousands had lost theirs due to restrictions imposed in response to the outbreak.

He wanted to do something about it so the Abu Dhabi resident set up a WhatsApp group to connect those who needed food with ones who wanted to help.

I said I would make a WhatsApp group and we could help the community together

Aamer Al Yafei

In time, it became known as the UAE Relief Initiative, a group that has since helped thousands of people who cannot afford to feed themselves.

“I woke up one day and I was feeling bad about what’s been going on. People have lost their jobs and cannot eat, they cannot buy food,” said Mr Al Yafei, 30.

“All their money is going towards rent. So, I got concerned. I felt it was unfair. I was comfortable when other people were living in difficulty.”

Not knowing where to begin, he put up a message on Facebook saying he was looking to help people in need. He also welcomed anyone who wanted to join him and support others.

“I said I would make a WhatsApp group and we could help the community together,” said Mr Al Yafei, who is a chemical engineer.

The group now has 500 members but the number of those who need their help far outstrip them.

“We have supported up to 7,000 people. But there are thousands we have not been able to help as well. It is crazy how many people there are who need aid. These are people who have not earned anything in months,” said Mr Al Yafei.

“A lot of them have families with young kids. So we are trying to get the children some essentials.”

The group arranges food deliveries for those in need, and also buys wholesale dry food in bulk and makes small packets for distribution.

“We have social media, Instagram and Facebook, where people reach out to us. People who have lost their jobs can tell us what they need,” said Mr Al Yafei.

Amir, who did not want to share his full name, is one of those who is being helped.

There are 23 members in his household, 10 of whom are children.

Four brothers had fended for the family but the outbreak affected their businesses. Three of them lost their jobs, leaving one with a salary of Dh4,000 to feed everyone.

The family has received help twice from the group.

“I was scrolling through Instagram and then I saw UAE Relief Initiative. I sent a direct message but was not even expecting anyone to look at it. But I got a response from Aamer to check on me. I explained and within a day, I received a gift card,” he said.

“We had nothing, literally. They helped me out so much.”

Being able to help people like Amir is very rewarding, especially during Ramadan, said Mr Al Yafei.

“I feel I’m serving a purpose,” he said.

“We’re trying to do more now because people are fasting and are hungry these days, so we are doing as much as we can.”

Mr Al Yafei said he wishes to help others, even in a post-corona world.

“We are thinking of doing other things in the future as we won’t really be dealing with people who are in need as they should be getting back to their jobs eventually,” he said.

“We are not sure yet, but something along the lines of mental health, getting some free seminars going and helping those in need, like people living in labour accommodations.”

Anyone who would like to join the group can do so by emailing uaereliefvolunteers@gmail.com

Updated: May 19, 2020 08:41 AM

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