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Iftars for all: Spirit of giving pervades in Sidon during holy month

In Sidon, it is important at the end of the day when the cannon fires that everyone has a meal to eat. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

SIDON, Lebanon: Hoda hurries through Sidon’s old city carrying an iftar meal for her aunt. She rushes to deliver the food before the sound of a canon firing signals the time to break the fast.

Mona Sayyad, Hoda’s mother, who has sent her to provide food to her widowed sister, says, “God smiles on those who feed those fasting during Ramadan, especially the needy like my sister, who is a widow and lives alone.”

With the arrival of the holy month of Ramadan, individuals and charity organizations find ways to send food to families in need, despite the fact that many do not wish to ask for food or help. Many organizations seek out ways to provide hot iftar meals to the poor nonetheless.

“Perhaps what distinguishes Sidon, especially its old neighborhoods, from other cities during Ramadan is the compassion and solidarity shown toward those who are needy and fasting, by individuals and institutions,” Mona adds.

More important than the help of these charity organizations is the individual spirit of giving during the month of fasting. Most families in Sidon, especially in the old neighborhoods, despite their own difficulties coping with rising food prices and poor living conditions, will provide iftars to families who are less fortunate. Many of these families even share food to break the fast together.

Mona, who lives in the old city, says that “the most beautiful part of Ramadan is helping those poorer than you, whether they are family or neighbors. I provide my sister with meals during Ramadan because she refuses to eat at anyone else’s table. So I find joy when my young daughter carries iftars every evening to her house.”

In the evening, the alleyways of the old city are abuzz with home iftar deliveries. Children carry food on trays to needy people, relatives and neighbors. Whether or not they are family, it is important at the end of the day when the cannon fires that everyone has a meal on their table.

Another custom in Ramadan is exchanging food or sharing meals among neighbors and families, Um Mustafa Ibriq says.

“We share food with one another. Today I cooked yogurt and my neighbor cooked zucchini and eggplant, so we share, and God blesses the food we are sharing.”

The local butcher says that many well-off families buy dozens of kilos of meat to leave in his fridge to give to needy families. These families receive the meat without knowing who gave it to them.

Meanwhile, organizations distribute iftar meals to poor families, whether by central locations for distribution or by delivering the meals to homes.

May Hasbini, director of Al-Moasat social welfare association, says the organization provides iftar meals to 20,000 people during the holy month.

“Our hot meals include a main dish, whether rice with chicken or cooked vegetables, in addition to vegetables, bread, fruits and sweets,” Hasbini says.

“Before handing out meals, the organization announces the service to poor neighborhoods whose residents then submit requests before Ramadan for meals. We study each request and we provide 2,000 meals each week to the old city and Ain al-Hilweh areas. We also host families in our centers to provide them with meals,” she adds.

“Our priorities are widows, orphans, [the] disabled and the very poor. In our main center in Sidon we host dozens of iftars for children and give them toys and presents. We continue these efforts the entire month of Ramadan and right before the Eid we also provide new clothes, gifts and sweets to those who are needy.”

Souad stands in front of an orderly line, waiting her turn to receive her hot meal at one of these centers.

“I lost my husband and was left with my three children. But there are many good souls out there who care for children and donate clothes, while others help with education. Today I’m waiting my turn to receive a hot meal to feed my hungry children,” she says.

Um Bilal, who is also a widow but has no children, stands in line as well awaiting her hot meal.

“I live alone at home, but generous people do not neglect us widows or poor, especially during Ramadan,” she says, expressing appreciation for these centers “even though no one can fill the place of my husband.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 25, 2012, on page 2.

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