Ramadan is two days away; the pandemic is almost two months in; people are getting hungrier by the hour.
"At times like these, digital communities can provide people with ways to stay connected, support each other and enable the very best of what people can do together. It is heartening to see so many inspirational actions and stories from across the region.
And as we approach Ramadan, people are rallying round to support their neighbours and communities through countless Facebook Groups which have sprung up in the last few weeks alone," Brie Rogers Lowery, Facebook's Head of Community Partnerships for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said.
What Mrs. Lowery means is that the concept of community lies within its letters: common + unity. When social distancing due to the novel coronavirus outbreak hit us hard, we took to online platforms to gather all the help we could come across.
Facebook, as the biggest social media platform with over 2.5 billion users, has a pool of kind-hearted people - deemed "Icons of Change" by the tech giant - working around the clock to provide to those in need. They're not employees at the company, no. They're your regular accountant, housewife, engineer, baker... and while these individuals are regular people to some, they're heroes to others.
Ramadan is fast approaching, starting on Thursday, while many families in the Arab region have been affected by the outbreak and won't be able to afford food items for iftar.
"Our community leaders are 'Icons of Change'; they are showcasing solidarity and putting humans at the heart of community engagement and inspiring everyone around them during these difficult times, and we're doing our absolute best to support their mission.
Our teams across the region are keeping in touch with group admins to ensure they have the resources they need to provide their communities with accurate and helpful information," Lowery continued.
Here are some of the Facebook groups and communities leaving an impact during these tough times:
In the UAE
1. Stop and Help
Founded on March 25 of this year by UAE-based Welsh Heather Harries, her husband, and their two sons, the Facebook group Stop and Help has one purpose: to help financially suffering families in Dubai, the UAE.
Even though the city is considered one of the most lavish in the Arab world, impoverished families and individuals remain, unfortunately, existent. To lift "community spirits" during the COVID-19 pandemic, Stop and Help is gathering requests from people in need via Facebook Messenger, which are then posted anonymously to the group's page for members to reply to; Harries then takes charge of delivery logistics.
So far and even though the group has only been around for a month, more than 60 households across Dubai have had free food, beverages, and various other items delivered to their doorsteps.
2. UAE Fusion Socialites
During times of social distancing and salary cuts, Sohail and her husband, Sohail Iqbal, are encouraging the group's 19,658 members to donate groceries to low-income families.
The couple are taking social distancing and help at heart, leaving groceries outside of the homes they're helping.
3. In This Together UAE
Also launched in March 2020, In This Together UAE wants people residing in the UAE to remember that they're not alone even if they lead a solo life during the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Founded by Anna Arzua MacMillan, the group is a grass-roots initiative that connects people in need of help with those who can provide aid during the current pandemic.
So far, the group is offering parents who are new to homeschooling free webinars that serve as a guide to online learning, weekly arts and crafts classes, and is looking into delivering food to those struck by poverty.
4. Sawa for Development and Aid (SDAID)
Lebanese NGO Sawa for Development and Aid (SDAID) has been supporting Syrian refugees since 2011, with a focus on helping them "restore the dignity, agency, and ownership of their lives."
Run by Rouba Mhaissen, the organization operates "Ramadan Kitchen" every year during the Islamic holy month. On a daily basis, refugees prepare 5,000 iftar meals to be distributed across the 22 refugee camps in the Beqaa Valley area of Lebanon.
This year, as Ramadan makes its way during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, Sawa (which is Arabic for "Together") is aiming to reach 3,000 Syrian refugee families throughout the holy month. The organization has also launched an online fund through which individuals can donate money to finance this year's Kitchen Ramadan.
Sawa's upcoming plans for Ramadan 2020 in Lebanon:
- Distributing food baskets in camps and host communities.
- Building awareness about COVID-19 as well as ways to prevent it and protect yourself and loved ones from it.
- Conducting virtual sessions in order to build solidarity and empathy around COVID-19 and its implications.
- Implementing joint small activities (with very limited number of individuals) to ensure sustainability.
- Disinfecting roads and camps.
Since 2015, JOOD has been bringing together the kind hearts of Moroccans to help collect and distribute food to the homeless. Founded by Hind Laidi, the organization is "the civic will of a group of volunteers who advocate for equity and dignity for all."
With the pandemic making the poor poorer, Laidi thought of collaborating with money transfer company CashPlus in a bid to distribute financial donations to those who lost their jobs due to the outbreak.
Since many families fall under the aforementioned case and with Ramadan being two days away, JOOD was able to raise $95,000 and help 950 families with neither jobs nor social security, providing them with 1,000 Moroccan Dirhams ($100) and allowing them to buy essential goods.
Beyond the financial contributions and thanks to its Facebook followers, JOOD was able to help 3,000 families by giving a food basket to each household. The association provides equipment (mattresses, blankets, hygiene products) and supplies food and basic necessities to 10 centers for the homeless in five cities.
6. Egyptian Single Mothers
Arab countries don't like it when women are single, let alone single and with a child. Egyptian Single Mothers, a Facebook group created in 2016 by Nermeen Abousalem to support and empower its eponymous members, is preparing for a Ramadan under lockdown.
During every holy month, donations are collected and distributed to single mothers in need. This year, the group will make it a priority - in addition to handing out donations - to spread the word regarding the many small businesses owned and run by the members.