Unemployed Filipina Feeds other Jobless Migrants in Dubai

Feby Dela Peña, An Unemployed Filipina in Dubai Cooks 200 Meals a Day to feeds jobless migrants. Feby saw her fellow Filipinos standing in line outside her building in Dubai, waiting for free food. And she was stricken — what if her family, too, had lost their income amid the pandemic outbreak? How would she have fed her three children? Feby is unemployed. “We’re poor, to be honest,” she said. “But it’s not a reason for me not to help, you know?”

The next day, she pulled out the money that was supposed to feed her family of five for a month. When their 11 housemates got wind of her plan — like most migrant workers in Dubai, the family lives in a shared apartment — those who could chip in as well. She was able to buy about 500 dirhams, or $136, worth of groceries, including 30 frozen chickens and sacks of rice. And she began to cook.

That is how Dela Peña launched the project she calls Ayuda — help, in Filipino, a language heavily influenced by Spanish colonial rule. Each day, she offers 200 free meals to the hungry. Migrants account for 90% of the workforce in the United Arab Emirates. The economic shutdown that came with pandemic has hit their communities hard. “Life is so hard and they don’t have anyone to depend on,” said Dela Peña, 34.

De la Peña’s a confident cook who used to sell home-made meals to friends as a way to earn extra money. She said she also has a license in food safety. But cooking 200 meals a day is a massive undertaking, especially with a 6-year-old, a toddler and a baby at home. The finances are dicey; Dela Peña relies on her husband’s modest income from a sales job. But when word of her efforts spread on social media, people began reaching out, dropping off cartons of eggs and bags of rice. An influential Emirati blogger gave her 10,000 dirhams ($2,700).

She leans on her housemates, husband, and her brother-in-law, who was let go from his job in a tea shop amid the pandemic, to help with buying the groceries, thawing the meats, chopping the food and cooking. Ultimately, though, she’s in charge.

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