For Muslims around the world, Ramadan is an important month for fasting and prayer. But it is also a time for family and friends to break their fasts together and, of course, celebrate Eid al-Fitr.
Islamic Relief has a special Ramadan distribution, and this year the NGO is distributing more than 200,000 food parcels to some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in 35 countries around the world.
The food packs, which include staples such as rice, flour, maize and pasta, are tailored to local cuisine and typically contain enough food to last between two weeks and a month.
Um Ahmed Abu Libdeh, from al-Bureij refugee camp in Gaza, is using food vouchers to shop in a supermarket for Ramadan. “We haven’t eaten eggs for 10 days so that’s the first thing I’m going to buy for my children,” she says before buying cheese, jam and eggs for suhoor, the meal consumed early in the morning before fasting, and rice and lentils for iftar, the evening meal.
The family is struggling to get by. “My husband is suffering from cancer and he needs regular treatment and medication, but we don’t have any support,” says Um Ahmed. “My sons have graduated from university but because of the tough economic situation in Gaza, all of them are jobless.”
Fatoumata Traoré, 35, feeds spaghetti to her children after receiving a food parcel. Her husband, Madou Coulibaly, is 45 and works as a well-digger. The family lives in Sirakoro, 190km east of the capital, Bamako, with their eight children, aged between nine months and 18 years.
Affording food for the family is a major challenge, says Fatoumata. “We get by on the small amount of money my husband earns as a well-digger and myself as a gardener during the rainy season. We live a hand-to-mouth existence, buying the food we need when we have the money. As a mother, I cannot eat knowing my children have not eaten. I don’t know what to do when they tell me: ‘Mum, we are hungry’. Sometimes when I don’t have anything for them, I try to take out a loan so that I can buy some food. Seeing your children starving can drive a mother crazy.
“Ramadan is a particularly difficult time as the food is more expensive and my husband is not able to work as much as he normally does, because it is hard labour and he is fasting.”
Rojiya Khatun, from Paroha muniipality in Rautahat, is among thousands of women whose families were badly affected by the floods in Nepal last year. The floods were the worst people in Rauhtahat have experienced for decades, rendering thousands of people homeless and in desperate need of food, water, decent sanitation and shelter.
Food packs reached 13,000 people in the district, with priority afforded to those living in temporary shelters and unable to feed their families.
Ihsan Ali, monitoring and accountability officer for Islamic Relief Pakistan, tells an elderly man in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa district of Khyber Agency about the food distribution process. About 7,000 food packs were distributed in the area, to which families are returning after years of conflict, despite a lack of clean drinking water, healthcare and schools. The packs were tailored to local eating habits, with double the usual amount of wheat to allow people to make chapattis, a staple food item. Gram flour was also included, to cook the pakoras that are popular during Ramadan.
Food is delivered by boat to Beledweyne in Somalia, near the Ethiopian border, 200 miles north of Mogadishu. This was one of the worst affected areas in the recent floods in Somalia, which claimed many lives as well as forcing countless people from their homes.
Fatima Haji Ali is a widow with three children and two grandchildren. “It was so shocking,” she recalls. “Our farm was totally washed away by the huge floods. As you can see, I am getting old and I can’t afford the day-to-day food for my children. This is the first time I’ve received any food since the floods started.”
Um Bassam, 58, lives in Alzouf camp near the Turkish Syrian border in Idlib with her elderly, sick husband and three daughters. She arrived at the camp after fleeing her home four years ago when he village was destroyed. “Before we fled, we used to enjoy going shopping for food at Ramadan and could buy all the food we needed, as well as luxury sweets. Now we are dependent on aid. The food pack is important for us as it contains enough food to last for one month, including cereals, oil, sugar and butter and helps to strengthen our weak bones.”
Um Bassan and her family are struggling with their life in exile. “Ramadan is hard for us because we are away from our home and we have lived through very shocking moments. We have started to adapt to this harsh reality as so many years have passed. We gather together with other displaced people and chat and break our fast together. This helps to lessen our pain and grief and helps us to overcome the difficulties in the camp. I pray that this war ends so I can return to Syria to see my family and relatives. I miss my sons so much and hope to see them very soon.”
Muyyad Bitar is an aid worker for Islamic Relief, whose office lies in Gaziantep in Turkey, near the Syrian border. In 2012, he fled his home in the Syrian city of Duma, near Damascus, when armed militia forces were shelling the area. He escaped with his family, including his sick mother, along small country roads and through a tunnel, before managing to reach northern Syria. He is a key player in the Ramadan distributions. “It’s very hot here during Ramadan, but our faith and our values give us strength to serve those in need. We do our best to help alleviate the suffering of those who have been displaced. Ramadan is a special time for celebrating with family and relatives and it is particularly hard for those who are grieving for their loved ones. I am praying for this war to end and for peace to prevail so we can gather our family and loved ones around the Ramadan table again.”
The ongoing conflict in Yemen has led to serious restrictions on the import of goods. Commodities are in short supply and food prices high. Teams have recently distributed food to almost 1,000 families affected by the recent military operations in Hodeidah. However, it is proving difficult to deliver food to the south-western city of Taiz, which is under siege. The food transporter had to make a long journey around the city in order to reach the areas populated with those most in need. Amat Asslam Faraj, second from left, is helping to organise food distributions from her office in Sana’a. “My colleagues here describe me as the ‘engine’ of the project. I cannot stop working, and I won’t, as long as I am helping those in need.”
Her husband passed away a few years ago and now she is bringing up her two children alone. “That’s not the biggest issue,” she explains. “I’m taking responsibility for my wider family, including my parents and my sisters. But working hard, being the only breadwinner in the family is much easier than watching unemployed people searching the streets for food.
“The conflict has destroyed our dreams, it has changed me, and all we wish for now, is finding a safe place with a piece of bread.”
Mohammed Munsar, 38, from Amran, had polio as a child. He has seven children and is struggling to provide for them. “We have had to keep moving house as I can’t afford to pay the rent,” he says. “Things have got steadily worse as the conflict has progressed.”
This year, the month of Ramadan is bittersweet. “It is a month of helping those who need assistance. We were fasting to feel the struggle of the poor, but now we are fasting because we are the poor, we are fasting because we cannot find anything to eat.”
A father and child from Maguindanao, south Philippines, wait for their neighbours after receiving a box of Ramadan food aid and a sack of rice. The other boxes and sacks are owned by their neighbours who want to hitch a ride because they have no access to transport. About 15,000 people have received food packs in Maguindanao and Marawi City.