Eating together like a family: Ramadan initiative serves up iftar meals for elderly Palestinian women in Lebanon's refugee camp 

Palestine refugees
5 min read
Initiatives to help poor and marginalised groups are common during Ramadan. This year, many humanitarian initiatives have been launched in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon in an attempt to support the most vulnerable.

In south Lebanon's Ain al-Hilweh camp for Palestinian refugees, one organisation is running an initiative to provide iftar meals for elderly unsupported women during Ramadan.

The initiative by the Beiti social centre – a not-for-profit charitable organisation which runs programmes to sponsor orphans, support students' education, provide Eid clothes, and other projects – comes at a crucial time in the country due to the economic crisis which has left many struggling to provide for their families. 

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Supporting those without family

Hafidha Ghanem, originally from the Palestinian village of Amqa in the Acre district, lives in Ain al-Hilweh camp – the biggest refugee camp for Palestinians in Lebanon's Sidon. "I can't work due to my health and I never married, so I have no one to look after me," she explains. "I used to work as an embroiderer. However, as I got older, I was not able to keep working, and I don't get any help from UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.)"

Women eating their iftar meal in Ain al-Helweh camp
Women eat their iftar meal at the Ain al-Helweh camp [Al-Araby Al-Jadeed]

Due to this, she says, "this initiative to feed those who are fasting is very important as the price rises mean lots of us are unable to afford to buy the ingredients for our iftar meal. Besides this, some of us don't have relatives here. This initiative has allowed women to eat together like a family… there is a big difference between eating your iftar meal alone and eating with others."

"The price rises mean lots of us are unable to afford to buy the ingredients for our iftar meal. Besides this, some of us don't have relatives here. This initiative has allowed women to eat together like a family… there is a big difference between eating your iftar meal alone and eating with others"

Social solidarity eases the burden

Hajja Tammam al-Saudi, originally from the city of Tiberias in Palestine, is a divorced mother who lives alone. With her daughters living far away, she tries to earn a living by working as a cleaner in one of the camp's nurseries. However, the salary she earns isn't sufficient to cover all her needs, including the basic essentials and food needed. She also requires medicines for her diabetes and high blood pressure.

"The best thing about these iftars is that they bring us together with other women, and let us feel that family warmth that we are missing, more than ever since the economy has fallen apart," she says. "Iftars like this also ease the burden on people. For instance, I can't afford the ingredients for a plate of fattoush salad let alone buy meat and ingredients for other meals."

Beita Social Centre hosts an iftar meal for elderly women during Ramadan
The Beita social centre in Ain al-Helweh camp in south Lebanon is hosting iftar meals for elderly women in the camp throughout the month of Ramadan [Al-Araby Al-Jadeed]

Umm Ahmed, also from Tiberias, says: "The situation is extremely hard. My husband has been out of work for over a month. True, he has found some work in a bakery, however, the money he makes isn't enough for me to buy even the bare necessities."

Their son, who is 30, suffers from a disease which has left him bedridden. She continues: "Social solidarity is needed, people need to help each other."

She views the iftar initiative as an important part of this, especially as it brings people together at a time many families can't gather like they did in the past. "We and my children used to pool our money to buy everything together so we would be able to get the ingredients for the meals," she says. 

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No respite for the poor 

Mariam Mahmoud, a widow with four sons, is in a similar position: "We can’t afford to buy a meal. When I want to break the fast, me and my married son, who lives with me, contribute to the cost of the food, because everything has got so expensive, this situation has no mercy on the poor.

"I have no one except my sons to support me, and if they can't find work, they won’t be able to care for me. I also need to buy medication each month. Even before Ramadan started, my son could only afford butter, jam, and half a carton of eggs, no more."

"It brings people together at a time many families can't gather like they did in the past"

Strengthening community bonds

Umm Yousef, the project supervisor at the Beiti social centre, says: "Caring for the elderly is the main focus for us at the centre because this group is vulnerable and needs to be cared for. Moreover, some of them don't have children and have no one to care for them.

"The iftar initiative aims to bring the elderly women in the camp together around one table so that they can feel some of the warmth of family closeness that many of us are missing. After the iftar meal, we give them a food parcel to take home."

She says they are also hoping to help the elderly from a mental health point of view, by strengthening the bonds of love and affection for one another in the community to compensate for the fact that they can't gather together with family.

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Ranin Abu Dhahir, who teaches the Quran to children in the centre as well as helps to prepare the iftar meals in the kitchen, says: "The economy is in a terrible state, and the elderly women we are asking to come and have their iftar meal at the centre have no one. This project serves as a way to honour them and restore their dignity despite the difficult economic conditions Lebanon is experiencing."

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.

Translated by Rose Chacko   

This article is taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al Jadeed and mirrors the source's original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. Any requests for correction or comment will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.

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