A Facebook group made up of more than 14,000 mothers is helping struggling families to cope with the effects of the pandemic in the UAE.
A co-founder of the UAE Pay It Forward group, which allows people to swap or give away items they no longer need, said requests for help have surged since the start of Covid-19.
The group was originally set up in 2016 to act as an exchange, but membership has increased dramatically since then.
“The pandemic hit everyone hard but there were some who were hit harder than others,” said the group’s founder, Kavita Faiz.
“There were a lot of families who needed help and they needed it right away.
“So many women were stranded here without income due to travel restrictions and quite a few of them were pregnant as well.”
Ms Faiz, who is from India, said the members of the group rallied round to help those in need and came up with a number of initiatives. One of which was to give away items for babies, such as clothing.
“When you lose your job or half your salary it’s a huge change, especially for parents who have to provide for their children,” said Ms Faiz, 38, who works in Dubai as an engineer.
The group, set up to exchange used goods that would have been expensive to buy new, has turned into a vital lifeline.
Ms Faiz said the UAE Pay It Forward group operates by putting people in need in touch with others. But there is a strict policy of not collecting money and it does not operate as a charity. Only goods that are no longer wanted are given away.
“There are a lot of families who have items they might have no need for any more,” Ms Faiz said. “But that item could make such a difference to another family."
Ms Faiz got the idea for the group when she realised her own son was no longer playing with his old toys.
“I could easily have sold them and recovered some of my expenses, but love and kindness shouldn’t come with a cost.”
This led to her forming the group with other mothers in the UAE. One who received help from the group during the pandemic was Ugandan Nakiriza Rebeccalilian, 31. She and husband lost their jobs, as a teaching assistant and hotel receptionist, because of cutbacks caused by the pandemic.
To compound their situation Ms Rebeccalilian was also about to give birth to the couple’s first child.
“We were stranded during the pandemic and we turned to Kavita because nobody else could help us,” Ms Rebeccalilian said.
“They ... gave us groceries and items for the baby as well. They really looked after us for four months.”
Another mother who was helped by the group was Kiran Saaed, 42, from Pakistan.
“I have a 19-year-old son who is blind and diabetic,” she said.
“He really needs exercise but the pandemic meant the opportunities were limited, I asked the group if somebody could help.
“So many mothers came forward to offer exercise machines. It’s so much more than just a Facebook group, there’s a real sense of community.”