Beirut-born Rao is into the next phase of Je Suis Beyrouth (French for ‘I’m Beirut’) – a fundraising initiative launched in August following the deadly blasts in the Lebanon Capital. She raised funds by selling specially designed T-shirts, bags and masks during events held at community centres in Dubai.
Together with Emirates Red Crescent (ERC), Lebanese Red Cross, Aid Lebanon Now, Liban TROC and Al Amal Institute for the Disabled in Lebanon, Rao has been able to provide food grains, sleeping bags and tablets to the needy in Lebanon.
“I was very moved by the blasts. I sketched a motif on the lines of Je suis Charlie (French for ‘I am Charlie’). My concept ‘Je Suis Beyrouth’ is themed on the Lebanon national flag. There is a flame on the top with words: ‘Ana Bayrut’ in Arabic to convey the message that Lebanese and Arab world can overcome any crisis,” said Rao, who works with an investment company in Dubai.
She designed merchandise with her unique logo and till date sold about 70 per cent of the stock with the proceeds going to the ERC. She created a Facebook page and found many hapless people approaching her seeking help and a good number of supporters offering aid.
“I bought sleeping bags from a merchant in Ajman and through the ERC, shipped more than 300 of them to Beirut ahead of the winter. And then some 50 tablets to help students continue with online learning and people carry on with their work.”
With the pandemic situation getting worse in crisis-hit Lebanon, Rao along with a local institute and support of authorities has been trying to reach out to the impoverished.
“People are suffering. We are supporting Al Amal Institute for the Disabled with funds. The institute buys grains from farmers in the south of Lebanon. The legumes are packed by the students. It is distributed by the army in the most devastated areas of Beirut. So far 135 families were provided several kilos of legumes. I am just a conduit,” she noted.
Now 51 years old, socially active Rao has chosen to remain single and dedicate herself to different causes. And for the past many years, Rao has been collaborating with missions and charities to launch similar fundraising campaigns. She offered assistance during crises like the Lebanon war, earthquakes in Pakistan, and floods in Oman.
Last year, Rao was at the Indian Embassy in Beirut on an invite to mark the Indian Republic Day. And this week, she held a virtual meeting with the Indian Ambassador to Lebanon Dr. Suhel Ajaz Khan.
Passion for social service runs in her blood. Her father was an Indian Army officer in Lebanon and her grandmother part of pre-independence movements, including Mahatma Gandhi’s Salt March.
“My father is from Hyderabad and my mother is from the Levant. I was born in 1970. By then he left the Indian Army. We moved to Abu Dhabi in 1973. We stayed near Qasr Al Hosn. I grew up seeing the late Sheikh Zayed drive his own car.”
Rao completed her schooling in Abu Dhabi and India and higher studies and college in the US. She has a double degree in mathematics and computer science. In 1995, Rao won the May Queen – Miss India (Middle East) contest held at India Social and Culture Centre Abu Dhabi. She was crowned by 1994 Miss World Aishwarya Rai.
“It was on the insistence of my father that I flew in from South Carolina for the contest,” she said and added that modeling never interested her. “I have spent my time working, traveling, and making life better for people.”
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