Foreigners represent 90 per cent of the workforce in the United Arab Emirates. Economic crisis and COVID-19 pandemic have left many of them unemployed and penniless. With US$ 136 worth of food, Feby Dela Peña began to help. Each day she hands out up to 200 meals.
Dubai (AsiaNews/Agencies) –- In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), migrants represent 90 per cent of the workforce. The economic shutdown caused by COVID-19 hit them hard, leaving them often without enough money to buy food to feed themselves.
Thousands have been left unemployed, unable to both support their families at home and travel home, surviving – or trying to survive – in a kind of limbo.
A Philippine migrant in Dubai also found herself unemployed as a result of the crisis triggered by the novel coronavirus pandemic; however, although “We’re poor,” said Feby Dela Peña, 34, this ‘is not a reason for me not to help, you know?”
The extremely difficult situation for migrant workers in the Gulf countries is something that Bishop Paul Hinder, Vicar of Arabia, knows all too well. Since many no longer earn wages, they are at a greater risk of catching the novel coronavirus.
Unlike locals, they do not enjoy any unemployment benefits and live without personal protection, in crammed dormitories where social distancing is nearly impossible. Such places are potential hubs for viral outbreaks.
Against this background, Feby Dela Peña began helping. She started with only US$ 136 worth of groceries, including 30 frozen chickens and some bags of rice.
She too lost her job and salary, but she did not lose heart and tried to help those who, like her, had neither jobs nor a single daily meal. She turned on her stove and began cooking.
Hanging out in the streets of Dubai, waiting for some free food, her fellow Filipinos were among the first to benefit from her help.
After an initial trial, she launched her project, which she calls "Ayuda", which means "help" in the Philippine language.
Now she offers up to 200 free meals every day to the poor and hungry, all of them foreigners like herself, from different countries and continents.
In spite of the promises by the Philippine government to help migrant workers with a cash assistance, and despite the "10 million meals" campaign by local authorities to help the poor, the situation of migrants remains difficult.
For many of them, getting one meal a day is a challenge. Indeed, “Life is so hard and they don’t have anyone to depend on,” said Ms Dela Peña.
For her, cooking hundreds of meals a day is a great challenge, especially since she has three children, a six-year-old. a toddler and a baby, at home. Still, it is gratifying to be able to help.
“It’s a big thing if you can help like 10 people not to [go to] sleep hungry," she said, as she scooped up cooked rice, fried fish, and boiled eggs into containers to distribute.
Every day, around 3 pm, she loads her children’s wagon with the meals to deliver and goes into her neighbourhood, a sign on a cardboard box announcing: “FREE!!! FOOD FOR EVERYONE.”
Some people walk 45 minutes for one of Ms Dela Peña’s meals. Whilst most hail from the Philippines, others come Africa, South Asia and elsewhere.