Saudi volunteer group feeds those in need this Ramadan

Tomooh increased its work this year after Ramadan tents were banned due to the pandemic

Every Ramadan, poor Muslim families and low-wage workers in Saudi Arabia receive extra support from the many charities and non-profit organisations that become active during the holy month.

For the Tomooh Volunteer Group, the safeguards against the coronavirus pandemic presented an additional challenge this year.

“We came up with the idea of delivering hot meals during iftar instead of cold meals,” said Abeer Al Baz, who leads Tomooh. “We have distributed 42,000 hot meals during this year's Ramadan season to workers and poor families in Riyadh, Jeddah and the Eastern province."

Tomooh started small in Riyadh, the kingdom's capital, in 2015 but expanded its reach this year to Riyadh province, Jeddah in the west and Dammam in the east.

Tomooh's volunteers, both male and female, include both high school pupils and college students.

“We have participated in large numbers wherever we saw the need,” said Osama Faqihi, a supervisor with Tomooh.

“After Covid-19 we saw huge effects the pandemic had on many companies, huge effects on many societies, from the low-income groups onwards. People are in need of meals on a daily basis.”

There are 70 volunteers in Riyadh alone, and the numbers are growing. Each day, more than 3,000 hot meals are distributed in the Saudi capital.

The group begins its work each year in the middle of Shaaban – the month before Ramadan in the Hijri calendar – and continues until the middle of Shawwal, the month after Ramadan, donating food and other basic provisions to more than 1,600 families.

The challenges of Covid-19

The pandemic and subsequent restrictions have made Tomooh’s sixth year the most challenging one yet as volunteers must prepare and distribute food packages under the health ministry's Covid-19 safety guidelines.

In previous years, workers would visit Ramadan tents shortly before sunset to break their fast with food and drink donated by charities and individuals.

These tents would be set up across the kingdom, usually adjacent to a mosque, and would be financed by charity organisations or the mosque administration, in addition to individual contributions from royalty and businessmen.

“But owing to the new laws now, the tents are not available,” said Abdullah Al Rumaihi, a Tomooh volunteer. "So volunteers are giving out the meals."

Tomooh took on the task of visiting poor families and workers near their homes and providing them with meals of freshly cooked chicken and rice, dates, bottled water and healthy drinks. Each meal costs about 10 Saudi riyals ($2.66) to produce.

The volunteers meet a couple of hours before sunset at their headquarters in Riyadh and load all the meals, which are already packaged by the suppliers, into vans.

They then head to the districts where most of the low-wage workers live. The workers queue in the street wearing face masks, wait to receive the meals, along with water and dates, to break their fast.

Saudi Arabia has more than 10 million foreigners working in low-paying blue-collar jobs.

"All the people waiting in the queue like myself are getting help, for sure,” said Mohammed Annas, a labourer.

Published: May 9, 2021 04:30 PM

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