Ramadan charity drives eye-opening experiences for young Saudis in Jeddah

Live to Give charity, with teams of young volunteers, aims to distribute 25,000 meals this Ramadan

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A small group of friends in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah launched an initiative five years ago to give back to society and feed the poor in their city.

Today, their efforts have expanded to reach about 10 times the number they started serving on their first Ramadan endeavour.

The Live to Give charity, with teams comprised entirely of young volunteers, aims to distribute 25,000 meals this month at an average of 1,200 meals a day.

Five years ago, it started with 350 meals for only 14 days.

This year’s deliveries include amenities and food products, basic household items, clothes and Eid gifts for children across the city, including 35 districts in southern Jeddah.

"We have been extremely busy and receiving a lot of donations as we are one of the few groups distributing meals this year due to coronavirus," Wid Enani, 25, founder and co-ordinator of Live to Give, told The National.

“We had to expand the team of volunteers, our distribution range and number of boxes."

Ms Enani said planning started two weeks before the holy month.

This year, under the protocols issued by the Ministry of Health, volunteers had to use the government's Tawakkalna app and register to volunteer using a link provided by the group.

At 4pm each day, all volunteers assemble to load vehicles with meals and boxes.

They are then divided into four teams, each heading out before iftar to a different location.

When they started, the group used donations from friends and family to pay for preparing and distributing the meals.

But this year, because of the recent surge in donations, the four team leaders meet every day to ensure logistics are in place to distribute the growing number of meals for the next day.

“We didn’t expect this when we started out but we were excited to see volunteers willing to help,” Ms Enani said.

They were further encouraged by an anonymous Saudi supermarket owner who gave the group coupons worth 40,000 Saudi riyals ($10,666), which they used to further increase grocery baskets for people living in poor neighbourhoods.

A lot of the volunteers are students who must clock up 100 community service hours to graduate.

The charity work was an eye-opener for the young people in the Red Sea city.

“We were shocked to see how bad it was in some neighbourhoods,” Ms Enani said.  “We visited homes comprised of a single room that accommodates 10 people.

"So if one person gets sick, everyone will eventually."

She said that Live to Give has ambitious plans to help renovate homes, build schools and teach people skills to acquire work.

Looking back at some of the most memorable experiences, Ms Enani spoke of the special Eid rounds.

“When you see kids jumping with joy when we distribute Eid gifts," she said.

"They are so happy someone remembered them, that someone cared and it meant so much to them. These moments keep the group motivated to achieve more every year.”

Abdullah, 18, learnt about the charity’s work through social media.

“I saw their work on social media and was so excited to join them,” Abdullah said.

“We get to physically help and see the smiles on people’s faces, especially young kids. It is the best feeling."

Abdullah and his friends sometimes stay behind in the poor neighbourhoods to play football with the young children.

“It is so much fun," he said.

In 2020, when the country was under lockdown, the group rose to the challenge by distributing essentials to homes.

“We only got one permit for a van driver and we would send 100 a day to three districts where we had volunteers to distribute them,” Ms Enani said.

The group’s volunteers handle all of the work, assembling boxes, taking them to a location where volunteers meet, then dispersing in organised groups for delivery.

Lana Iqbal, a British citizen living in Saudi Arabia, said she was inspired by the young Saudis who hit the streets to distribute meals and water during Ramadan.

“This is one of the things I love about Ramadan and living in Saudi Arabia,” she said.

“I thought this would help me and friends in community service hours but it is doing so much more for us," said Lana, 17. "I have never been to these districts in my city before."