Writing from Gaza, Bodour Abukuwaik explores how Islamic Relief is applying excellence to our life-changing programming this Ramadan and beyond.

Bodour Abukuwaik works for Islamic Relief in Gaza.

Everyone here in Gaza is excited for Ramadan – especially my father, who, every time I speak to him, reminds me how many days are left to wait.

His eagerness reminds me of when we were children making Ramadan lanterns out of paper and cardboard. We painted them, keen to make the lanterns in the best way. The simple joy of a task completed well is one of my earliest examples of excellence, ihsan – one of Islamic Relief’s core values.

We still love the rituals of Ramadan as adults. The family gathering and talking around the dining table only happens in the holy month, since we are often so busy it is hard to do this at other times.

A different Ramadan

However, this year will be different. This is the first Ramadan in which we can’t gather around one table at iftar time with our extended family, or perform Tarawih prayers together, due to the Coronavirus pandemic in the Gaza Strip.

So even though I will be doing my usual volunteering activities, such as visiting the children’s hospital, I have thought a lot about how to make Ramadan special this year. The idea of decorating my home with Ramadan lanterns came to mind. And though we will not be able to visit our family, we will prepare dishes of dates and dried fruits to send to them as gifts for the holy month.

Excellence is engraved on our hearts

Working at Islamic Relief during Ramadan has a distinct flavour. The team here is working twice as hard to ensure that the aid donated by Islamic Relief supporters from around the world reaches the poorest families in a timely manner.

Making sure to take every precaution to avoid spreading the deadly virus, we are sharing joy with those we serve, and are prouder than ever to be part of the Islamic Relief family.

We feel that excellence is not just a word written on the walls of our office, but a principle engraved on all our hearts and minds. We work together to reach perfection in all of our work. When distributing Eid clothes to orphaned children, we urge them to choose the finest clothes. Supervising the iftar party for orphans and their families, we only eat when we know the families have had enough food and drink in an atmosphere of joy.

Striving for excellence has led us to adopt a voucher system for Ramadan food distributions. This means vulnerable people choose the food they need in a dignified act of kindness. They rely on us, and I love seeing the smiles on their faces and listening to their hopes for the month.

Food vouchers distributed by Islamic Relief in Gaza mean families can choose the food they need.

Turning despair into hope

This Ramadan may be the most difficult for families in Gaza.

Many breadwinners have lost their jobs as school bus drivers, kindergarten teachers, hairdressers and other occupations due to the pandemic. Adding to the difficult economic conditions experienced by most of the families here, this has deepened their poverty and for many, pushed food and basic essentials beyond their reach.

Unemployment is increasing and there are no job opportunities for young people. They are falling into frustration and despair. Among them is Alaa’, a kindergarten teacher, who has been out of work for many months since the closure of the kindergarten in which she worked. The main breadwinner for two children, she is struggling to make ends meet.

Others, like Mahmoud, have been more fortunate. Providing for a family of 5, he was unable to find work and could not afford to repair his dilapidated house. Islamic Relief helped repair his house and gave him a tuktuk, a 3-wheeled vehicle. Now he is able to support his family and they can live in dignity.

Powering brighter futures

Right now, Islamic Relief empowering 70 families by providing them with grants for small livelihoods start-ups – young people especially are benefiting from the training that we offer, helping them to develop the skills they need to compete in the labour market. As a hallmark of excellence, we are offering ‘around the clock’ advice and support to help them succeed in their projects.

It is incredibly satisfying for me to meet these young people, and hear their stories. With Islamic Relief’s help they are at the beginning of the road, and with determination they are working toward a brighter future for them and their families.

I was once in the same position, fresh out of university and looking for a job opportunity. Islamic Relief gave me training which developed my practical skills so I could secure a decent livelihood. Now, alhamdulillah, I am able to support my family and complete my studies.

An orphaned child chooses Eid clothes provided by Islamic Relief in Gaza.

Sharing love this Ramadan

Here in Gaza we face difficult economic conditions, high unemployment, and deepening poverty, which is only worsening amid the Covid-19 pandemic. But hope is still burning brightly this Ramadan.

I see it in the cheerful eyes of children, the determination of young people, and the blessings offered by adults. And I see it in the good hearts of Islamic Relief’s donors, who, recognising that we are all one global family, are sharing love with vulnerable people during the holy month.

This year, let’s show our brothers and sisters that We Are One. Donate to our Ramadan appeal today.