Tough times for charity

Amira Hisham, Tuesday 19 Mar 2024

How have economic challenges affected charity work in Egypt, especially in Ramadan, asks Amira Hisham

Tough times for charity

 

“Thank you for your donation. May you always be able to continue your charitable deeds. We would like to bring to your attention a case involving a child in need of monthly treatment, costing LE1,500. We appreciate your kindness and support.”

Mirna receives such requests periodically, and given the current economic challenges, with rising prices outpacing income growth, it has become increasingly difficult for her to contribute.

Previously, with the advent of Ramadan, Mirna would donate 10 food boxes to impoverished families. This year, she can only donate five boxes.

Sahar Ahmed, a volunteer with many charity associations, said she used to prepare 100 food boxes in Ramadan for families in need. They would cost LE25,000. “This year I collected the same amount but for 50 boxes.”

On one hand, donations do not go a long way because prices have increased, explained Ahmed. Egypt’s annual urban inflation reached 35.7 per cent in February. This in turn has affected people’s spending power, leaving them with less money to spare. Ahmed noted that donations have drastically decreased “but we do what we can do,” she added.

With the surge in prices, the cost of a Ramadan food box has doubled compared to last year, averaging around LE500. Each package typically includes dry goods such as rice, pasta, fava beans, salt, salsa and tea, often enough for 15 days.

Ayman Hussein, PR director at the Orman Association and a member of the National Alliance for Civil Development Work (NACDW), said on TV that he has seen the highest contribution to charity this Ramadan despite the economic crunch. Nonetheless, Hussein noted that the Orman Association has introduced the option of donating in installments on their website.

The association is aiming to distribute one million food boxes and one million kg of meat this year, he added. The Orman, in the charity business for 31 years, is targeting families in need in remote areas to distribute the boxes.

Distribution is conducted based on a unified database in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Solidarity and NACDW entities to ensure each family receives only one food box, avoiding duplication from multiple sources, Hussein explained.

In response to the increased prices of food boxes, charities have sought more cost-effective ways of providing assistance. Misr Al-Khair Association offers “atonement for fasting” by providing a meal to one person at a cost of LE65 and late night Sohour meals before the fast for LE30. It has also introduced charity cards priced at LE350. Recipients can use the cards to purchase goods from supermarkets.

Abwab Al-Khair Foundation employs the same charity cards, Executive Director Haitham Al-Tabei told Al-Ahram Weekly. This year the foundation distributed 1,000 coupons to needy families, each for LE500 — up from LE300 last year — and 1,000 kg of meat within Cairo, he added.

Al-Tabei insisted that the foundation distributed more coupons this year compared to the previous Ramadan, pointing out that the majority of donations are received in the weeks leading up to and during Ramadan.

When their traditional Ramadan boxes faced low demand, hypermarkets adopted a similar approach, offering charity cards with values ranging from LE50 to LE200 to enable donors to purchase and distribute cards to needy families directly.

Souad, in her 50s, has found the idea of charity cards appealing. “I wanted to give to the same number of families I am used to giving every Ramadan. Moreover, charity cards are a more dignified way of giving charity,” she said.

Charity kitchens are another popular means people resort to for giving food to the needy. Iftar meals at charity kitchens have risen from LE50 to LE85 and Sohour meals are set at LE25.

Radwa, the owner of a charity kitchen, has seen her charity work growing bigger every year thanks to donations. Today, “the kitchen cooks dozens of meals every day,” she said.

“Donors sometimes select the venue where they want the meals to be distributed. At other times, it is up to me to choose the location,” she added.

“The kitchen chooses the leprosy colony because its patients suffer severely from food shortages and lack of donations. We also choose families of cancer patients who come from remote areas to the Oncology Institute to receive treatment, in addition to needy families in some low-income neighbourhoods,” Radwa said.

“The cost of meat and chicken has doubled to LE400 and LE130. My business has been affected by the economic challenges throughout the past year,” said Haj Mohamed, a cloth merchant who holds charity banquets in Zeitoun neighbourhood every Ramadan.

He said he was of two minds: hold a charity banquet without serving chicken and meat or cancel the banquet altogether. “I eventually opted to hold the banquet with modest ingredients for the sake of my regular guests who have been visiting my table in Ramadan for five years,” he added.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 21 March, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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