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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 25 February 2021

Dubai pupils create contact tracing site after peers bullied for having Covid-19

Online platform anonymously informs those who have been exposed to someone with the virus

Quddus Pativada (L) and Deepak Tahiliani created a website to help people anonymously inform others that they have been exposed to Covid-19. Pawan Singh / The National
Quddus Pativada (L) and Deepak Tahiliani created a website to help people anonymously inform others that they have been exposed to Covid-19. Pawan Singh / The National

School pupils in Dubai who saw their peers teased for having Covid-19, set up a website to help with contact tracing while protecting sick children from potential scrutiny.

The website, called Wasama, anonymously notifies people if they have been in contact with someone who has the coronavirus. The infected person enters their name, email address and a copy of their positive result and submits the names and numbers of people they have been in contact with. Those people are then contacted and told to isolate for 10 days, without naming who they were exposed to.

Quddus Pativada, 17, a pupil at Repton School Dubai, and Deepak Tahiliani, a Year 13 pupil at Jumeirah College, set up the site after seeing their friends face social stigma because they had caught the virus or had to isolate.

This type of bullying … can be very traumatic

Carolyn Yaffe, Camali Clinic

“When schools opened, pupils who tested positive did not want to tell others. There was social anxiety and cases of bullying,” Quddus said. “We created wasama.co in response to a rise in cases in our schools, and the situation we were seeing among friends.”

Several private schools in Dubai temporarily closed last month after case numbers among pupils increased.

Quddus said fear of teasing or social isolation led some pupils to hide the fact that they had Covid-19, which in turn endangered others.

“One of our friends tested positive and he was too shy to tell others because he did not want to be the reason that others had to isolate," he said.

“I know of at least three other cases where pupils faced a social backlash.”

Quddus said he saw pupils leave classrooms after someone who had been isolating returned and would make jokes at their expense.

Instances like those affected pupils’ mental health, he said.

Deepak said some of his friends who contracted the virus were bullied online.

“People were messaging them on ... social media and berating them for testing positive for Covid-19 when it wasn’t their fault at all,” he said.

Deepak said these responses only added to concerns for pupils, who were already worried about being sick, having to isolate and potentially spreading the virus to their families.

Quddus Pativada and Deepak Tahiliani, two Dubai school pupils, set up Wasama.co after seeing their friends bullied because they contracted the virus or had to isolate. Courtesy: Wasama.co
Quddus Pativada and Deepak Tahiliani, two Dubai school pupils, set up Wasama.co after seeing their friends bullied because they contracted the virus or had to isolate. Courtesy: Wasama.co

Hale Education, an education consultancy in Dubai, helped Deepak and Quddus to develop the idea and launch wasama.co. The website has since been used across the UAE but also in India, Oman and the US.

Carolyn Yaffe, a counsellor and cognitive behavioural therapist at Camali Clinic in Dubai, said bullying of this sort could make pupils feel ostracised and shamed.

“Schools are supposed to be a safe space for children,” she said. “This type of bullying ... can be very traumatic.”

She said the shame could affect their self-esteem and suggested parents and teachers educate pupils about Covid-19 and tell them everyone deserves to be safe and treated respectfully.

“I would bet that these children were doing this out of fear rather than meanness,” Ms Yaffe said.

“Children can act out and be aggressive when they feel like that they’re not supported.”

She called on pupils to support each other but drew comparisons with adults feeling embarrassed after contracting the virus.

“The guilt of having Covid-19 affects adults as well as children.”

People felt tremendous guilt that they could have caught the virus because of something they did, even though they were being cautious, she said..

A 17-year-old Italian pupil said he was surprised by the poor treatment from his peers after contracting the virus in the first week of 2021.

“Many people treated me differently. They asked me If I was contagious and stayed away from me," said the pupil, who asked for anonymity for fear of further scrutiny.

“I could see people watching me and that messed with my head. I thought this would go on for ever.”

He said schools needed to educate people on Covid-19 and allow people to talk about their experiences and how to get through it mentally and physically.

Schools are working to enforce safety measures and protocols to prevent the spread of the virus.

Fiona Cottam, principal at Hartland International School in Dubai, said an ill-informed stigma existed around Covid-19.

“Everybody is afraid of falling ill and young people have seen family members affected,” she said.

She said she knew of a pupil at her school who faced unpleasant behaviour after contracting the virus but that the school generally had not reported many cases.

Schools in Dubai during Covid-19

Updated: February 24, 2021 07:39 AM

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