Dubai's community spirit: This heartwarming story of a family being reunited will make your day
Rain-soaked, hungry, cold and lost, 30-year-old Adeel Afzal waited on a park bench outside Dubai's Baniyas Square Metro station for his family, from whom he was separated on New Year’s Eve.
A diagnosed schizophrenic, the young man had been taken by his family to watch the fireworks. After a washroom break in the Mamzar area, Afzal disappeared. The family was desperate because he is afraid of strangers and crowds. Gulf News published a report on Tuesday titled, 'Father seeks help to find missing son’ in the Nation section.
Sreelesh Balan, an Indian national working as a sales manager in Dubai, was the first to spot him. He told Gulf News: “I was heading to work and had parked my car close to the Baniyas Square Metro station. Suddenly, it started to rain, so I decided to wait near the station.
“I noticed this young man sitting on a bench. He caught my attention because it was raining and he just sat there, getting wet. I was confused as to why he wasn’t walking away or seeking refuge from the rain.”
After a while, when it stopped raining, Balan made his way to work, which is a 10-minute walk from the station. Upon arriving at the office, he picked up a copy of Gulf News and came across the missing report. The man he had seen near the Metro station looked similar to the one in the photograph and description published.
The 34-year-old said: “I ran back to the station to confirm if it was the same person. He was still sitting there. I tried speaking to him, asked him his name but he didn’t respond. It seemed like he was unable to understand what I was saying.
“I called the police first, but for some reason, the line got disconnected. Then I decided to call Gulf News hoping someone could help him.”
It was the first time, since he had arrived in the UAE eight years ago, that Balan had contacted a newspaper.
His call was picked up by the Readers’ Desk. Balan’s description matched the information the newspaper had. But, we needed to get help to Afzal as soon as possible, inform his family, without raising too much hope in the event that it was a false alert. This was around 11am.
We decided to turn to our 200,000-plus social media followers and network of readers for assistance. Gulf News posted: “Are you near Baniyas Square Metro station now? We need your help.” Within minutes, responses started pouring in through Twitter and Facebook. Dubai has a big heart. People on their way to work and doing chores stopped to help a father find his missing son.
Julie Palad, a Filipina working as a secretary at a trading company, stepped out of her office and went in search of Afzal.
She said: “At around 11.33am, I went to the Baniyas Square Metro station close to my office and tried finding a person matching the description, wearing a white and black striped T-shirt and black jeans. I saw a person wearing that, sitting alone on a bench near the fountain, outside the station.”
Palad called the newspaper to confirm and sent a picture to help in getting a confirmation. The match seemed close. Meanwhile, other readers started calling in too.
Vinod Balan, an Indian national, who works in an electronics company, said: “After I spoke to Gulf News, I went to the location and spotted a person matching the description of the missing man and kept a watch on him. It was raining heavily but he kept sitting on a bench outside the Metro station, getting drenched and looking at people.” Balan informed the Readers’ Desk.
Afzal’s family was promptly advised by the newspaper and the readers waited with him. They didn’t want to leave him alone in the rain without any help.
Palad said: “I kept waiting to make sure the man did not leave. A few other readers and I tried to talk to him.”
Another reader, who was present but doesn’t want to be named, told Gulf News: “A few of us approached the man and tried to speak to him, but he wasn’t responding. He looked extremely dehydrated.”
Feeding the man
Balan added: “His lips looked dry, and he looked tired. We asked him to go with us to a warm place since it was cold and raining, but he refused to respond much, or move, he said he wasn’t feeling cold. We asked him if he wanted something to eat and he finally said he was hungry. One of us bought him a McDonald’s burger and another reader [Palad] got him a bottle of water. And in some time, his father and brother reached the location.
“His [Afzal’s] face lit up when he saw his brother, there was relief written all over his face. His father confirmed it was his son, thanked us and then we left.”
The reunion took place at around 1.30pm. Over two hours from the first reader call.
Palad said: “I feel great to have helped another in need. Good luck Gulf News, good job.”
Balan was equally happy. He said: “I’ve had a few chances of helping people in need, this is the first time I could help Gulf News help another reader.”