Ramadan cheer for Morocco’s poor

تم النشر: 17 نوفمبر 2003 0:00 CET

Rana Sidani in Rabat

Every year during Ramadan, Fatima Alharfi’s culinary skills make her a local star.

During the Muslim month of fasting, she prepares Harira, the traditional Moroccan soup, for more than 130 poor and homeless people assisted by the Moroccan Red Crescent (CRM) in Meknes, north of the capital, Rabat.

For 30 days, more than 20,000 vulnerable people benefit from this kind of activity throughout Morocco.

“All my neighbours say I’m the best person for this job. I begin the preparations at 11 o’clock in the morning and finish at five in the afternoon,” Fatima explains.

“These people have no-one to prepare a hot meal for them to break their fast. Seeing them enjoying my tasty soup is enough to make me forget how tired the day has made me,” she says.

The CRM branch where Fatima works is one of 71 that organise Ramadan meals within the framework of its fight against poverty, a fight that is a necessity in a country where almost 20 per cent of the population lives below the poverty threshold.

“Our volunteers carry out research in the communities to identify the most vulnerable people and then include them in the lists of our beneficiaries,” says Badreddine Bensaoud, secretary general of the CRM.

“Our assistance during Ramadan consists of providing well-balanced food to improve their diet, and distributing clothes, especially for children,” he adds.

Bensaoud says that poverty prevention is one of the Red Crescent’s key activities: “The first victims of poverty are illiterate rural women. To combat this, we organise training for girls so they can learn a trade which will assure their financial independence.”

The CRM also acts as a bridge between vulnerable members of society and state-run services. The disabled, people without valid papers and others are helped by the Moroccan Red Crescent to acquire the legal status that will allow them to benefit from these services.

The CRM adapts its aid according to the needs in each region. In Meknes, a big town with a large number of immigrants, the 130 people come to the CRM premises to eat because most of them are homeless.

In contrast, in Beni Mellal, in the centre of the country, the 300 beneficiaries have modest homes, but are still extremely poor. They collect their meals from the CRM branch and eat them at home.

While waiting for the distribution, the women enter into a lively but good-natured argument. Kahdija Fikri says, of all of them, she has been benefiting from these Ramadan meals the longest – “I’ve been coming five years running,” she says.

“Well, I’ve been coming for seven years,” Nabiha Siouk protests.

This is the fourth consecutive year that Nahiza Al-Zuhayri has come for her Red Crescent meals. She and her two children, Ousama, 9, and five-year-old Afraa were abandoned by her husband.

“I work as a cleaning lady, and bringing up two children is not easy,” she says. “Every time my son, Ousama, sees me with tears in my eyes, he says to me: ‘don’t cry Mummy, the Red Crescent won’t forget us’.”