SIDON, Lebanon: As families across Lebanon sit down to enjoy their Ramadan meals at the end of a long day of fasting, charitable organizations in Sidon are working to ensure no one misses out on their iftar.
In the Sheikh Zayed Al-Nahyan Garden near Sidon’s Grand Omari Mosque, Umm Mohammad drops off her four grandchildren, whose father died a year ago, at a charity iftar organized by youth initiative Fakker bi Ghayrak (Think about Others). Mustafa al-Sakka, one of the organization’s volunteers, says the organization was founded just over a year ago by “a group of young people who are a link between the needy and those who want to give.”
Inside the garden, 11-year-old Mirna is playing on the swings waiting for the maghrib call to prayer to signal the end of the day’s fasting.
“This is the second time my family and I have come here,” she says.
“I hope there’s food that I like.”
Sakka explains that the garden has been chosen for the charity iftar in cooperation with the Sidon Municipality not only because of its beauty, but also because it is close to the city’s poorest areas, meaning that the needy can travel to the meal with ease.
“Inshallah the sun sets and the iftar begins soon, because I am hungry,” 14-year-old Ahmad says, smiling. “I try to pass the time in the garden ... but I keep getting whiffs of the food.”
Fakker bi Ghayrak aims to provide food to 150 of Sidon’s most vulnerable people on a daily basis, not only through the open-air iftars, but also by delivery.
“Some people don’t like to say that they’re in need ... so we come to them instead,” Sakka explains.
The organization does not discriminate between nationalities.
“We just want to put a smile on people’s faces,” he adds.
Not far away in the Al-Khair Restaurant, volunteers are setting up for a two-course iftar for more than 75 people, in the second year of the initiative. Those fasting are seated at tables by waiters in what Ali Jaafeel describes as “a five-star restaurant” and served a feast of two main dishes, fattoush, soup, laban, juice, dates, fruits and sweets.
Jaafeel is overjoyed to have been invited to eat at the restaurant.
“I had never been to a restaurant before in my life, I’d only seen on television the happy faces of people sitting and eating together at the table,” he says.
The restaurant is not merely a seasonal concern; it is open for lunch year-round.
Between May 2018 and April 2019, it received 15,061 diners, manager Majed Markiz says.
“Our restaurant is a sanctuary for all those who need it,” he adds.
For families who prefer to stay at home and cook dishes of their choosing, the Rahma Center for Community Services, which runs the restaurant, recently launched the “Daily Dish” program, sending baskets of healthy food supplies.
Beyond the charitable initiatives, many of Sidon’s residents have taken the Ramadan spirit of giving into their own hands, distributing food to neighbors and sending anonymous iftar packages.
Sidon resident Layla al-Nakouzi plays her part by giving food to her neighbors, despite their protest.
“I simply tell them that God has ordered us to provide for others,” she says. - M.Z., writing by Emily Lewis