Every year, hundreds of Hyderabadis head to Oman looking for lucrative jobs and a bright career. But reality plays a cruel hand than what was bargained for — utterly alone, some find themselves out on the streets, while others are lost with no one to turn to.
“If they have relatives in the country, then they are taken care of. But if a person is coming here with no contacts, they tend to get lost. Many come through channels that are fraud and their stay in the country is considered illegal so they end up living on the streets, until Amnesty International announces another free way back home. But that takes years,” says Rita Samuel, who moved to Oman from Hyderabad in 1996. And how does the former teacher, who quit a well-paying teaching job at a college, fit into this chaotic situation?
Well, Rita is their ‘Helpline’, quite literally. Helpline Counselling Services is a non-profit voluntary venture set up in 1997 to look after helpless individuals with confidential listening and support services in Oman and across the Globe.
“In 1997, one of my office boy’s friend Srinivas, who hails from Karimnagar, was living in Oman illegally and he met with an accident. The office boy was disturbed and when I asked him what the matter was he broke down. He narrated the entire story and told me how they find it difficult to communicate in the country where they are not well-versed in local language; they don’t have easy access to hospitals, police stations and have no legal help. That’s when I sprung in action and with the contacts I had made during my stay, I got Srinivas treated at a hospital and helped him go back home.”
It was this defining moment that made Rita realise that she had to help fellow Hyderabadis who were in situations far worse than Srinivas. And that’s when she set up a helpline and a website that helped her connect with people in such dire situations. “I started the free service, Helpline and over the years the embassy got to know about me too. Presently, I have four people in the panel, who are also from Hyderabad. But most of the time it’s a ‘One Woman Mission’.”
Srinivas connected her to many other immigrants who were living in a condition far worse than his. Every week, she would meet them at Ruwi Clock Tower Center and counsel them.
“We would also joke, share home-cooked food… the intention was to let them know that they are not alone.” News spread quickly and she started getting calls from people of other nationalities.
Called ‘Mother Teresa of Oman’ by people whom she has helped, Rita lost her parents at a very young age; a tragedy that resulted in Rita and her brother growing up with their aunt in Hyderabad.
“I joined St Ann’s School (Class IV), but we were finally put in an orphanage because my aunt already had seven kids to take care of,” recalls Rita, who also studied at Osmania University and then pursued leadership in community services from Glasgow University, Scotland.
“We always had someone to talk to and that’s why I started Helpline, if someone is suffering and has nobody to talk to, they can connect to me.”
Presently working with Caledonian Engineering College in Oman, Rita bears the expenses of Helpline from her own pocket.
“Social service is the rent I pay for living on this planet,” says Rita, who is now planning to meet the Indian CEOs of various companies in Oman and encourage them to help those in trouble. She then plans to meet various Indians and conduct monthly counseling sessions for them....