Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset during the holy month of Ramadan. “Iftar cannon, strike!” A traditional phrase notifies Muslims observing Ramadan that the Maghrib prayer, which marks the end of fasting, is approaching. After a two-year hiatus due to Covid-19, the phrase restored its nostalgic sense among the Egyptians, as traditional celebrations and rituals during Ramadan returned, including “Ma`edet Rahman” (charitable Iftar meal).
“Ma’edat Al Rahman” illustrates social solidarity – something that characterizes the holy month. Different kinds of food are served according to each neighbourhood, providing Iftar to the needy and passers-by.
Mawa’ed Al-Rahman is one of the most eye-catching sights in this holy month, as it hosts the needy and less fortunate, those who don’t have the luxury of having their iftar meal at home or may not even have a home.
If you walk in the Tahrir street in Dokki during the Iftar time, it is difficult to miss the long line of stacked tables prepared by youth. Actually, a young woman, called Rana Ezz, is behind the whole idea, and 60% of the volunteers who help her in preparing these charity tables are women.
Daily News Egypt interviewed Ezz to learn more about these charity tables. Ezz, 28, graduated from the Faculty of Economics and Political Science, Cairo University, in 2016, and works as an entrepreneurship specialist in MSMEDA.
Moustafa Zakria (Ezz`s Friend) texted his friend on whatsApp: “Rana, there is a place in 6th October city that will host Ma’edet Al-Rahman. I thought you would be interested, if you want to support them.”
Ezz: “Ok, but what do you think if we hold a Ma’edet Al-Rahman in Dokki and name it “El- Ma2eda.”
Zakria: “Ok, that`s a good idea. I agree.”
That’s how the idea of the El-Ma2eda originated.
Both friends were working together in different student activities in the university. They used to do charity work during the holy month of Ramadan. They continued their charity activities also after their university graduation.
Ezz said that during their work in the student activities, they gained a good experience in the logistics sector, which helped them a lot while preparing for El-Ma2eda.
“Since day one, while I was proposing my idea to my family, they supported me a lot and my father helped me obtain the permit for hosting the El-Ma2eda,” Ezz said proudly.
Ezz revealed that the self-financed El Ma2eda started in 2017, with only 30 chairs.
“We were surprised with people’s feedback, everyone offered to help us. Gradually, we increased the number of chairs, reaching 500 by the end of Ramadan 2017,” Ezz said happily.
“We received financial and food donations, while many offered to volunteer in setting up the tables and packing the meals,” she said.
Ezz explained that El Ma2eda started in 2017 with a team of only three people: Ezz, Zakria, and their friend Mariam Yassin. They are now nine co-founders, along with more than 200 daily volunteers.
Ezz said El-Ma2eda now serves at least 2,000 people per day, in addition to distributing extra meals daily, as well as rations bags weekly to the needy people in different areas.
Ezz said that there are no criteria for selecting those that the Ma2eda hosts every day for Iftar, mentioning that El-Ma2eda welcomes any passerby who couldn’t make it home in time for Iftar due to any reason.
“We have criteria for choosing those who receive the meals at home, so while distributing in the neediest areas, we select the elderly and those who are financially unable; I want to mention that we chose those people after making a case study for each one, ensuring that they really deserve,” Ezz said
Challenges turned into opportunities
“Of course, during my journey with El-Ma2eda, I faced some challenges, but actually, I don’t see them as challenges; I always see them as actual opportunities,” Ezz said.
“The first challenge that I myself was having is that I put the charity tables under my home building, so I had concerns that my neighbors in the same building and the shops beside the building might get annoyed, but it was not a challenge as I thought as surprisingly my neighbors welcomed the idea a lot and they themselves used to support us by all the means,” Ezz said.
Ezz reported that also the owners of the shops beside her building also used to support her, giving an example that the fruit seller behind her house used to donate dates every day to the Ma2eda.
“The second challenge that we still have is that we are committed every day in Ramadan to have our iftar in the street with the people, while Ramadan is known for the family and friends gatherings for Iftar, but this was also an opportunity that we get to know new people that volunteer with us and became our family,” Ezz said proudly.
“In addition to the challenge of balancing between the preparations for the El-Ma2eda, the work, and the worship, it was also an opportunity that helped me personally a lot in learning time management,” she said.
Ezz said that she also was having some anxiety that she might get harassed in the street as she is a girl and serves different categories of society.
“But guess what, since 2017 till present, no one, either me or any girl that came and volunteered with El-Ma2eda encountered any kind of harassment; on the contrary the people who came in El-Ma2eda to receive their Iftar help and support us by words and by offering help in the preparations. The people in the street appreciate our project and offer also help, “Ezz narrated.
“Really the guests also of El-Ma2eda are so helpful, for example we used to put a plastic bag beside every table, we noticed that the people themselves after finishing the Iftar they put the rubbish in the plastic bag and if one found that someone who was sitting beside him left without removing his or her wastes, another one remove it by himself, “Ezz recited.
Ezz recounted that the fourth challenge, and this was the most difficult one when the state decided in 2020 to ban the Mawa’ed Al Rahman due to the covid-19.
Ezz said that she understood well that this decision was a must, but she was disappointed with how they will reach the people in Ramadan. Still, it turned out to be an opportunity also as from here the idea of” Ma2eda fi Kol Beit,” meaning charity table in every home, the idea of disturbing iftar meals in the homes of the most needy people originated.
“Starting from 2020, we used to distribute the meals of the Iftar for people in the most needy areas in Cairo and Giza, after making sure that they really deserve this help, in addition to dispensing Ramadan boxes weekly in the governorates of Menia, Fayoum, Aswan, Qalyubia, Suez, Asuit,” she reported happily.
In 2022 as the Ma2eda (Charity tables in the street) was back, Ezz decided to continue making the charity tables in the street and dispensing the meals and the boxes across the aforementioned governorates.
“As I said that Ramadan is the month of the social gatherings for Iftar so after any iftar invitation a lot of food remains, so this year we launched an initiative to save any food waste, encouraging people who have food remains to bring it to us and we make meals from it and distribute them,” Ezz said.
“Another challenge is the hike in the prices witnessed recently, but we realized that after the hike in the prices, the donations increased also” according to Ezz.
Ezz mentioned that one of the happiest moments for her is that the people trust El-Ma2eda that most of the donations she receives came from people she has never known before.
People always see the outcome of El-Ma2eda, but they never know what exactly happens behind the scenes. Ezz narrated for us how they prepared for the event.
“We bring the iftar meals from specific restaurants, so first of all, we follow up with the restaurants to get the meals, then after getting them, we distribute the meals in the most needy areas then return to my house building,” Ezz informed.
“In the entrance of my house building we used to count the meals and divide them according to the number of the tables, then some of us go outside to set up the tables and the chairs, while others remain inside the building entrance to make the packing of the extra meals,” Ezz explained.
“To explain further, we make extra meals from the food donations that we get from the people’s homes, then we count these extra meals,” She said.
After that, Ezz said that they started to put the bottles of water and the juices on the tables.
“Once the prayer is called, some of us bring the food meals for the tables, others take the extra meals and distribute the meals on the cars that pass by the street in the Iftar timing, “ Ezz explained.
“After finishing the Iftar, people leave, we begin to clean up and remove the wastes, then pick up the chairs and the tables, then everyone returns to his or her home,” Ezz cited.
Ezz said that she always captures photos and videos for El-Ma2eda, After returning home, she used to publish the images and videos on social media.
She explained that this phase is so important as she believes that through publishing these videos and photos, she encourages other people to join El-Ma2eda; in addition, she documents for those who gave her donations where their money went.
Lessons learned and aspirations
“I learned a lot of lessons through my journey with El-Ma2eda, including anger management as surprises may happen at any moment, so I also learned to put a lot of plans in every phase,” she said.
“In addition to learning good management as we distribute tasks for every volunteer that comes to help us in order to make all the people feel involved,”Ezz said proudly.
Ezz said that she also learned that God chooses the people that he wants to be a reason for how his goodness and sustenance reach people on the earth.
“I love the development field and always like to see the real impact of what I am doing on people’s life on the ground, so one of my dreams is to see that all the people know and think of their plus point to help others and develop others,” she concluded.