Coronavirus: Dubai badminton groups help deliver food to families affected by virus

Amateur sports groups come to aid of restaurant servers and school bus assistants on unpaid leave

Loreli and John Cowling are part of a Dubai badminton group who have organised the delivery of essential food supplies to struggling families. Courtesy: Dubai Badminton Together Against Covid 19
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A group of friends who bonded over badminton have put aside their racquets to help out people in their community who are struggling to keep afloat during the pandemic.

The small band of amateur sportsmen and women from Dubai have spent the past few months shopping for groceries, medicines and diapers for Filipino families who do not have jobs but wish to remain in the UAE.

Among some of the items they have delivered so far – all at a social distance – include supplies of rice, noodles, cooking oil and baby food.

They began distributing essentials to families across the city in early April and have since expanded their circuit to include Sharjah, Ajman, Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.

The group registered to collect and distribute food supplies as part of a volunteer campaign started by authorities in Dubai.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, launched Your City Needs You in March, a programme to encourage residents and Emiratis to sign up through the Day for Dubai app to raise awareness about the importance of volunteering. 

The UAE Food Bank, which collects and distributes food to people in need, donated stocks of rice, sugar and canned goods to the group during a delivery in Satwa last month.

Loreli Cowling, a human resources consultant, said the group has helped about 2,500 people and more than 100 children.

About 90 per cent are Filipinos with some families from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Getting food means there is one thing less we have to worry about

Ms Cowling, along with her husband John, set up a system to match eight Dubai badminton clubs with volunteers who live near people in need.

“People cry when we deliver the food and cry on the phone when they ask for help,” she said.

"We need more people to come forward with food. We try to match food being donated with volunteers ready to distribute to our kabayan (countrymen) who need help."

Before the coronavirus outbreak, the sports enthusiasts met on badminton courts and organised friendly competitions.

They now plan logistics for the delivery of two-week supplies to those in need which includes canned beans, eggs and bread.

The Facebook group 'Dubai Badminton Together Against Covid-19' has a waiting list of more than 300 people still in need of assistance.

Neighbourhood supermarkets and parking lots are designated as meeting points to hand over deliveries.

After restrictions were partially lifted across the country last month and economic activity gradually resumed, some people who had been on unpaid leave but returned to work offered their food packages to others on the waiting list.

“They have not got their salaries yet but since they can eat meals in restaurants that have reopened, they have given up their place to someone on the waiting list,” Ms Cowling said.

Servers in restaurants, salespeople in malls and school bus assistants are among those looking for new jobs.

The coronavirus has dealt a double blow to some struggling families.

Maria Gabua says her one-month-old baby Gabiranna is a blessing and is grateful for essential food supplies from badminton groups in Dubai that help her family tide over the coronavirus crisis. Courtesy: Maria Gabua

Maria Gabua’s husband lost his job with a cargo firm in September.

She borrowed money from friends to pay for an emergency caesarean in April, when she delivered a baby girl.

Food packages have relieved some pressure from Ms Gabua, who was recently let go from her job as a waitress job after the restaurant downsized.

“It’s very difficult,” said Ms Gabua, whose elder daughter is being looked after by her mother in the Philippines.

“There is too much stress. First it was ‘no work, no pay’ and then my job was terminated. Getting food means there is one thing less we have to worry about.”

She lives in a flat with two other families.

“I want to stay and look for another job,” Ms Gabua said.

“I have a better chance to get a good job in Dubai than at home. We are happy to have a new blessing in our lives and pray this pandemic will end.”

Richard Romarate is looking for another job to help him continue to stay in the UAE along with his wife Lanie La Candola so they can care for their daughter Rickiella. Food supplies for badminton groups in Dubai have taken some pressure off the family. Courtesy: Richard Romarate

Richard Romarate was asked to go on unpaid leave from mid-March by the restaurant he works in.

“I really need a job so if you know of any work as a waiter, cleaner can you please tell me?” he asked.

His wife also lost her job and they need to provide for their two-year-old daughter and mother-in-law.

“We are very tense. This group gives us food so that takes care of our major worry.”

He owes more than Dh2,000 in rent to his landlord, also a Filipino, who has agreed to defer his payment until he gets a job.

Filipino residents collect food parcels supplied by volunteers from a Dubai badminton group. Courtesy: Dubai Badminton Together Against Covid 19

About 6,000 Filipino have returned home on flights from the UAE since special repatriation flights resumed.

“We are concentrating on clearing people who don’t have any means or support here,” said Raymund Cortes, consul general for the Philippines in Dubai.

More than 700,000 Filipino nationals live in the UAE and make up the third largest segment of the population to remit money, after residents from India and Pakistan.

Mr Cowling, from Australia, said people needed support as they looked for fresh employment.

“If both parents have not been paid salary, they do need help,” he said.

“We try to prioritise distribution depending on the need. When we posted that a couple with a baby in Karama needed food, within a few minutes I got a response asking where the family was located and we connected the donor and the recipient.”

People reach out to the group on Facebook with requests and are matched with volunteers.

Ms Cowling has organised Facebook chats with lawyers and travel agency representatives to spread information about labour laws and visa extensions.

The group needs more food donations in areas including Deira, Satwa, Jumeirah,  Al Barsha, Al Quoz, Jebel Ali in Dubai and for communities in Sharjah, Al Ain and Abu Dhabi.

“We are very lucky the badminton community has come forward but sometimes we cannot get to people as fast as we would like,” Ms Cowling said.

“We want to inspire kind-hearted people to come forward with food  for people in need.”