Ordinary people have been facing extraordinary challenges, and yet fighting with determination. Some may have crumbled, finding their dreams shattered and a present derailed. As a journalist, I understand that I am, perhaps, reporting what is easily the biggest story of our lifetimes.
To catch the pulse of what UAE residents have been up to, I recently took to the streets yet again. It was surreal to see otherwise bustling spots like Madinat Zayed Shopping Centre, Electra and Hamdan streets eerily silent. While there is no doubt that #StayHome has been a successful campaign, the general mood has been subdued.
Keeping my gaze fixed on my surroundings, I spotted a delivery man, who would go around offering food packets to someone at the mosque. His gesture piqued my curiosity, and I began following him.
Eventually, I found out that the red shirt he was wearing wasn’t a restaurant uniform, but casual wear. He was a commoner who had volunteered to step out and help. I observed him from a distance; he and his friend would drop packets outside flats and buildings, call people over the phone, have a chat and ask them to collect the delivery. Once they were done, I decided to approach them.
“You want a packet?” he asked me. I could sense that he already knew that I’d been following him. However, it did offend me slightly to realise that he thought I was after his food packets. I introduced myself as a Khaleej Times journalist and began a conversation. The ‘delivery’ man was Shafeel Kannur, an Abu Dhabi resident, who has amassed quite a following on social media. He has used TikTok as a platform for social service too. Personally, I never thought much of TikTok, but Shafeel showed me how his TikTok videos, announcing free food for the needy, were a grand success.
“We all need one essential thing – food, and only money can buy that. But there are many who have lost jobs or been placed on unpaid leave, others on visit visa who are now broke, and low-paid workers who can’t afford to miss a single day’s pay. How will they survive? Hence my food challenge.”
In the past two weeks, Shafeel and his friend, Habeeb Mattool, have put food on the plates of 320 people. Over the past few weeks, I have covered many noble deeds undertaken by social workers and community associations, but a one-man show was a first. “Hey, this isn’t my money! This is all from well-wishers. I am only a mediator, a middleman,” Shafeel maintains.
The duo enquires about the well-being of every person they deliver food to. “Everyone is in a state of panic. Some want to leave but can’t, others are anxious about the next day and their future; all are following news in search of that breakthrough vaccine. In such desperation, even if I have no answers