Coronavirus: Dubai family sets up Facebook group to help those in need

Heather Harries says she wants to 'lift community spirits' during uncertain times

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A Dubai family has set up a Facebook group to help people struggling through the Covid-19 outbreak.

Heather Harries, 52, and her husband and two sons established Stop and Help with the aim of lifting “community spirits" during the pandemic.

The idea is that people and families who are finding it difficult to afford basic essentials can ask for assistance.

The group has so far delivered free food, drink and other items to more than 60 households across the emirate to help them weather the outbreak.

"I just want to help people cope better in difficult times," said Ms Harries.

“I had read a post online where a mum was stuck in Pakistan because of the travel restrictions.

We just look at how we can get them back on their feet. I call it a safe place to exchange help.

“Her children were being cared for in Dubai by the nanny but I was upset to see they didn’t have any supplies to keep them occupied at home.”

Despite the disruption caused by coronavirus, people across the UAE have rallied together in all sorts of ways.

On Saturday, Dr Farida Al Hosani of the Abu Dhabi Centre for Public Health, said more than 500 volunteers stepped up to offer their help to essential workers across the country.

To date, a total of 611 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in the UAE, with 61 making a full recovery.

Dr Al Hosani said the response to the pandemic highlighted the country’s sense of community and willingness to help others.

“Humans are such amazing creatures,” said Ms Harries, who suspended her home tutoring business because of the outbreak.

“I wanted to make good use of my free time during all of this.

“We have delivered everything from cat food to bags of rice, clothes, books and games.

“We have made lots of people really happy and that fills my soul.

“At the moment, my husband and I are doing all the deliveries and we have completed about 60 so far, all while keeping a social distance, of course.

“As the group grows, I hope to connect people in nearby neighbourhoods so they can help respond to requests and deliveries closer to home.”

Stop and Help works by people in need sending a private message to Ms Harries on Facebook.

Their requests are then posted anonymously on the group’s page for users to respond to, with Ms Harries handling delivery logistics.

“We have had a few people asking for money but we don’t do that,” Ms Harries said.

“We just look at how we can get them back on their feet. I call it a safe place to exchange help.”

As well as delivering supplies, the group, which has more than 120 members, also has several experts on-hand to offer advice on everything from budgeting to careers.

“They are all doing this free of charge – it’s a real community effort,” Ms Harries said.

“One of our members, Rohini Gill, is a human resources consultant and she has handled many cases where people are looking for help to find work.”

One of the first people to receive an assistance package was a freelance wedding make-up artist.

The Pakistani mother-of-two said all of her bookings were cancelled after clients postponed their big day.

"When I reached out to Heather I was in a desperate state," she told The National.

“I had not worked for two months and my husband was not receiving his full salary because of the coronavirus situation.

“Within hours, Heather’s husband had delivered rice, eggs and bread, as well as books for my children.”

Now, she said she was "returning the favour" by helping others in need in her neighbourhood.

“What Heather started is something really special in a time of uncertainty,” she said.

“She helped me out in a dark time and now I'm back on my feet I want to make others happy.

"I made up some food packages from items donated by friends and family and gifted them to about 10 families."