For the Muslim world, the month of Ramadan is traditionally a time for inner reflection, devotion to God, self control, and fasting from sunrise to sunset. It is also a particularly joyous time when relatives and friends invite each other over to gather around a table and break the fast together-Iftar-and above all a time of giving and feeling for the poor. The tradition of fasting is one that makes people all over the world feel with those who are hungry, with those who are destitute. In Ramadan, HCI takes the opportunity to honor these valued traditions while continuing to extend help to the poor and needy in the communities they serve; in the Arab world alone it is estimated that 65 million people live below the poverty line and about 11 million people suffer from malnutrition with 12.7 percent of children under the age of five being underweight. HCI is painfully aware of these statistics and has been dedicatedly engaged in battling poverty, disaster and despair here for over 20 years.
This Ramadan, like many Ramadans before, in villages, towns and cities all over The Arab world, HCI has reached out to many disadvantaged communities in the true Ramadan spirit; hundreds of traditional healthy Ramadan meals have been served to those the most in need of help and support. In addition, specially designed care packages that contain food items such as rice, dried beans, sugar and dried fruit that the families can make use of throughout Ramadan have been distributed by HCI to help ease the economic burden on these families while being as nutritionally beneficial as possible. HCI’s selection criteria direct food allocation to low-income, large, and single-parent families, particularly if the single parent is a woman or person with special needs.
In Gaza City, HCI organized an Iftar for war affected farmers and their families who have been supported by HCI to establish their own farming businesses. One hundred and fifty people came together to share the success of what HCI introduced into their lives, out of destruction these people have managed to reestablish their livelihoods, it is impressive; It has been nine months since the last Israeli Operation here and 3 years into a stifling siege, life for Gazans is characterized by chronic unemployment, infrequent access to power and water, health hazards stemming from inadequate sewage system, and sub-standard housing with thousands living in tents or the rubble of their former homes. When it was time for the distribution of food packages to the needy, the war affected people of Gaza did not have to stand in long queues this year, HCI’s team made up of tens of volunteers went door to door and personally delivered the much needed food items and listened to and made note of each family’s problems.
THE WEST BANK
Life has not improved for many of the Palestinians living in the West Bank since the construction of the separation wall that has severed communities, people’s access to services, livelihoods and religious and cultural amenities. In keeping with its commitment to help where it is needed, HCI’s presence was also felt in the West Bank this Ramadan; in the Central District of the West Bank we organized food package distributions for low income families with persons having special needs.
In the Salama settlement, south of the capital Khartoum there are about eleven thousand internally displaced people who have fled the violence in the south and west of their country. Here they face chronic poverty, high unemployment, and many health problems. Iftars were organized for them here as well as in the north and west of Khartoum in similar settlements. The distribution of hundreds of much needed “goodwill” or “fasting” food packages as they are called in Sudan were implemented all over the capital as well.
Since it is also close to the time when school fees must be paid and school supplies must be purchased, to ease the economic burden on these mostly single mother headed households, and inspired by our firm belief in education as a form of empowerment, we have also prepared back to school items to be distributed to several community schools around the capital. Our Iftars and packages may not seem enough compared to what these communities require, but they address an immediate and pressing need, hopefully with more funding in the future we will be able to do more, for now at least these settlers know that they have not been forgotten.
Kalabsha El-Jedida, Bashayer el-Kheir, New Tomas and ‘Afia village are new Egyptian settlements west of Lake Nasser; they were conceived as part of the government’s plan to resettle one million people around Lake Nasser by 2017 to green the desert. Several of these small agricultural communities have already sprouted up in this desolate land, but the lack of basic amenities has so far been a hindering factor in this project realizing its true potential. Yet even in the face of enduring hardship, these vulnerable and marginalized settlers from all over the country are determined to make a future for themselves and for their families. This year, HCI in collaboration with local partners made sure that 400 of the poorest households in these settlements took home a food package that would be a source nourishment and economic relief.
In the two days of distribution, work was continuous around the clock to ensure the timely delivery of the food parcels. The New Tomas and ‘Afia village are quite far; approximately 270 km south of the nearest city, Aswan. Making this journey in the morning with the scorching heat was quite challenging for the team but after Iftar as we drank cold water and ate dates, allowing their sweetness to awaken our blood sugar and digestion, we felt inspired to see firsthand the courage and will of these settlers determinedly building a new life for themselves under difficult conditions, and we felt happy to have played a small role in their narrative which will undoubtedly prove to be a success story.
In Lebanon, one hundred and fifty physically handicapped individuals and their families from all over the country participated in an Iftar organized by HCI in partnership with the Lebanese Physical Handicapped Union. In the hopes of making their Iftar a memorable one, a carefully selected wheelchair friendly venue was selected for the event and a Hakawati, a traditional storyteller, was at hand to volunteer and entertain these families with inspirational tales; the human connection between the storyteller and the audience creates a sort of friendship, and thus the stories told become more believable and accepted. This makes the message or the advice hidden within the story more influential to their lives.
In the northern city of Tripoli, one of the poorest cities on the Mediterranean coast with an alarmingly high number of single mother headed homes as a result of war and conflict, HCI organized a series of Iftars and distributions; food packets were distributed to needy families in the north and three hundred orphans and their families were invited by HCI to break their fast together over a period of three days. We are pleased to report that the normally quiet Ramadan evenings in Tripoli were filled with laughter and the sounds that children generally make when they are having fun. Furthermore, HCI organized an Iftar in the high and remote village of Jabal Akroum for the needy local families.
It is estimated that Jordan hosts over 500,000 Iraqi refugees, the majority of which are without residency permits and unable to work legally, they are often fearful of seeking out official forms of aid. They largely confine themselves to their homes because of economic constraints, disabilities and concerns about their legal status. Access to educational and health services remain limited. Every day is a struggle to hold their families together with very little means. And even though their future is uncertain and their current situation is grim, going back home is out of the question; home is where they saw the destruction of their communities and the constant threat of violence, torture and extortion. Growing numbers are living at or below the poverty line. The resources of many families have dwindled to almost nothing and this creates concern about the simplest things, like how they will feed their children each night.
This year, HCI’s team in Amman distributed hundreds of food packages to mostly widow headed Iraqi families. Not only did these families receive temporary relief to their economic burden but their dignity remained intact, and they felt cared for.