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The spirit of giving during Ramadan
Published in Daily News Egypt on 19 - 09 - 2008

CAIRO: On my way to Dokki for iftar one day, just as I exited the Sixth of October Bridge right before dusk prayer (the time to break the fast), a group of young people stopped me and gave me a bottle of juice.
"Ramadan Kareem, iftar shahy [hearty iftar], the young man said. I was taken aback by the generous gesture.
As I was parking my car moments later, I saw a parking attendant coming my way. I was feeling defensive and wasn't about to argue about the cost of parking in a public street. To my surprise, he simply handed me a date and said, "Miss! Break your fast, it s time for maghrib prayer.
During Ramadan, the spirit of giving is at an all-time high in all its different forms.
Driving down Egypt's streets at this time of day, you'll commonly find groups of people giving out drinks or dates, making sure motorists and pedestrians rushing home for iftar break their fast on time. It's humbling to see the poor giving food to the rich, especially at a time when skyrocketing prices mean that many have to fight for bread and basic foodstuffs.
At the same time, as you drive down these same streets, you will see a number of mawaed rahman (free public eateries for the poor in Ramadan), where wealthier people offer the needy a warm iftar meal.
The spirit of giving starts even before the holy month. Around a week before Ramadan, I started receiving text messages from friends collecting donations for the less privileged in addition to the charity organizations advertising their services.
The past few years in Egypt have seen a growing trend during Ramadan of eta'am, or feeding, where friends get together and prepare meals to distribute to the poor. It can be just a handful of friends or a large scale organization.
"A few years ago, my sister and I started cooking some meals and would go to distribute them before iftar. Then more friends joined. The year after, friends told friends and we prepared more than 100 meals per day, said Somaya Ali, a 22-year-old who organizes an eta'am.
"Every year more people come to help out and donate. This year, not less than 30 or 40 girls come every weekend, she said.
Besides preparing hot meals, Ali said they also put together Ramadan packages to give to the poor filled with basic commodities the family will need throughout the holy month including flour, butter, pasta, rice, vegetables, tea, sugar and dates. According to Ali, each package costs around LE 70 and should feed a family of five throughout the 30 days of Ramadan.
The flurry of charitable activities is mostly centralized in Cairo, which means the underprivileged outside the capital could be left out. "In the beginning we were only limited to Cairo, but now I have made contacts with many areas, like Ismailia, and we go distribute there or we have someone come and pick them up, she said.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activity is also high during Ramadan. Many multinational corporations organize tents to host dozens of orphans or people with special needs for iftar on a daily basis. For example, Barclays Bank's tent at the Dokki Shooting Club hosts more than 500 orphans everyday. McDonalds in Dandy Mall hosts an iftar for orphans with a special show by the popular McDonalds characters. Afterwards, the children can go and play in the park
The Food Bank, sponsored by corporations like Olympic Group and El Sewedy Cables, also distributes food to the poor during the month of Ramadan.
Moreover, some food and beverage companies give out free products on the streets during iftar time. And while this mainly serves to promote their products, it also benefits many people.
The mawaed rahman found around the city are usually financed by individuals. On Orouba Street, one eatery has been serving iftar meals to the poor for more than 11 years and feeds more than 100 people everyday. When the Maghrib prayer call resounds through the city, the road is usually blocked as taxi and truck drivers park to break their fast.
"The location of the eatery is very important. We chose Orouba Street because many people pass by during iftar and also because there isn't another one close by, said the businessman who finances this eatery and who preferred to remain anonymous.
Even though these eateries are essential to feeding the poor during Ramadan, many complain that government restrictions are making it increasingly difficult to set up the tent.
"Every year someone comes and tells us that we have to get a license for this and a license for that, the procedure is extremely bureaucratic. I know quite a few people who used to regularly hold them but stopped, said the businessman. To avoid any impediments to his annual tradition, this businessman starts getting licenses for his eatery a month before the start of Ramadan.
University students around Egypt also organize mawaed rahman and prepare Ramadan packages for the poor. Other people randomly distribute meals or water at iftar and sohour times. "I'm at work all day and don't have time to do any charity so this is something small but it s all I can do, said Sabri, who distributes dates on Merghani Street in Heliopolis.
Whether it's a single date, a warm meal or an entire package, everyone who contributes makes a difference in someone's life. The key is to remember that the less privileged need help feeding their families all-year round.


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