Coronavirus: Abu Dhabi relief fund for hard-hit families hailed as vital lifeline

Dozens of parents approached schools to sign up for financial assistance

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Parents and schools in Abu Dhabi have said a new relief fund to support struggling families will ensure children do not miss out on crucial learning.

This week, the government established a public fund, worth tens of millions of dirhams, to help Emiratis and residents who have lost jobs or been forced to take pay cuts as the coronavirus pandemic takes its toll on finances as well as public health.

Families can apply to receive financial support to pay school fees, ask for devices to help children with distance learning, and money to pay for food and rent.

The Together We Are Good initiative is being run by the Authority of Social Contribution – Ma'an – with the support of Abu Dhabi's Department of Education and Knowledge.

Muneer Ansari, director at the International Indian School in Abu Dhabi, said 12 families had signed up to the initiative since Monday.

Fees at the school range from Dh10,500 for kindergarten to Dh11,500 annually for grade nine.

Ramadan will be here soon, and many people have families here, thus needing more resources at this time

"This initiative is what we need. Parents have started receiving salary reductions and have been put on unpaid leave," Mr Ansari said.

"This initiative is targeted specifically for those who are vulnerable and cannot afford to pay fees."

He said parents were struggling to obtain the required documents from their employers to prove they had taken pay cuts.

"The majority of companies have not issued anything in writing stating salaries have been reduced."

The school offered a 30 per cent discount on tuition fees for pupils up to grade five, and any new admissions.

"Pupils have just started their first term, so it's important for them to continue education," Mr Ansari said.

International Indian School in Abu Dhabi offered a 30 per cent discount on tuition fees for pupils up to grade five and any new admissions.

Muneer Chalil, principal at Darul Huda Islamic School, an Indian curriculum school in Al Ain, said more than 50 families expressed interest in applying for financial assistance to pay fees.

The school has more than 1,700 pupils and fees range from Dh5,000 in kindergarten to Dh10,300 in grade 12.

"The fund will definitely help lots of families if it is properly distributed," Mr Chalil said.

Mr Muneer Ansari, director of International Indian School in Abu Dhabi

He suggested the authorities ask schools to recommend a list of vulnerable parents, particularly those who have outstanding fees since last year and are unable to pay, so they could be prioritised.

He said some parents at the school own small grocery shops, or work as carpenters or tailors and haven taken a serious financial hit since the outbreak.

"When applying for support they need to show their salary is reduced and give bank statements. But, they may not have these. They have told me they are helpless as their shops are shut," Mr Chalil said.

"We have online classes and I have families who are unable to join as fees for the previous year are still due."

Applicants must provide proof of change in salary as a direct result of the pandemic including a letter from their employer stating their termination, unpaid leave or temporary pay cut.

A revised contract provided to the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation must also be submitted and bank statements of their salary account from January to March 2020.

Self-employed parents must provide VAT registration documentation for their businesses, financial statements for the previous year, and corporate bank statements from January to March 2020.

Mr Nas Hussain, a Pakistani resident in Abu Dhabi, started a cargo business in November but is in need of support to safeguard his child's education.

Mr Hussain pays Dh42,000 in tuition fees for his daughter, who is in year eight at a British school in the emirate.

"I am going to apply for the fund so that I can get help even for one term. The school is only willing to refund transport fees for the term."

He believes the fund will be of great help to families whose situations will only worsen as global lockdowns continue.

"Ramadan will be here soon, and many people have families here, thus needing more resources at this time," he said.

Jeff Evans, from Learning Key Education Consultancy, said it was important that children not miss out on study.

“This is especially vital for middle or high-school-aged children as they do not have to be withdrawn from their schools.

“Education authorities in the UAE have worked hard with schools and parents to ensure high-quality learning continues during this situation,” he said.

"Schools can help the families most in need to apply for temporary funding, so they can complete this semester.”

Families can apply for support with education expenses, health care, food and basic needs by contacting Ma'an on 800-3088 or by visiting the website.