This Ramadan I’m missing the sweet smell of ‘kinkeliba’ tea in the air and the sound of preachers in every neighbourhood but I’m learning how resilient families are facing down hardship, says Islamic Relief’s Moussa Goita from Bamako, Mali.

Ramadan is a blessed month. A time of year when I reflect on my spirituality and strive to get closer to Allah.

Alhamdulillah, this Ramadan I’m spending much more time with my family. Last year, I didn’t see the importance of this so much – but now, with a new baby on the way, I feel my family ties more than ever. So I’m doing all I can to enjoy this special time with them, a time that is particularly bittersweet since the arrival of coronavirus in my country.

A blessed state of mind

Despite the alarm we are feeling about COVID-19, I am hoping the transition to spending more time with my family is a special and blessed one, much like the state of mind people usually find themselves in at this time of the year. I’m praying more often with my family and showing my children the way of Islam insha’Allah.

The month of Ramadan is a blessing for any Muslim, and to be able to spend it with loved ones is an even greater gift. It is a priceless opportunity to raise one’s spiritual level, to look back on your life and improve yourself for the future. It is a special time of year to gather rewards and blessings.

Delicious food and new clothes

Here in Mali, many people look forward to eating dates and special dishes made with sauce. My favourite iftar is dates and milk – I’d eat this any time of the year!

In Bamako, our capital city, you’d usually find stalls selling tasty snacks for iftar – whilst in the evening, the sweet smell of ‘kinkeliba,’ herbal tea, in the air reminds you it’s nearly time to break fast.

Most of the people you’d see out and about will be wearing long gowns, hijabou for women and bazin forokia for men, and hats that in other months they save for Fridays. But during Ramadan, everyone likes to dress their best!

Walking through any neighbourhood, you’d hear lots of preaching. This is an important time to remember Allah, when people aim to refrain from sin and fortify their minds with good deeds and a lot of prayer.

Eid is a really special time in Mali. The entire family put on their nice new clothes, visit relatives and make duas for the next year. It is a day to be together, to forgive each other and celebrate with joy.

Coronavirus may mean our streets are quieter than they were last year, and families and friends not able to see each other as they wish – but Malian communities are bound together by solidarity and love that is now more evident than ever.

I hope my family and I can spend the day at my elder brother’s home, along with my other brothers and sisters. My wife will help with the cooking, our children can play together as we chat, eat and make duas for each other.

Moussa Goita films a vegetable garden set up by Islamic Relief in Safecore village, Ouelessebougou.

Giving the poorest families nutritious food

This year I’m reflecting once more on the importance of humanitarian efforts, especially in Mali. My country is in the grip of a huge humanitarian crisis, which is largely overlooked by the rest of the world. Alongside protracted conflict and insecurity, climate change is driving many people ever deeper into poverty and suffering.

Throughout the year the work Islamic Relief does in Mali is a lifeline for many.

And at Ramadan we’re out in communities distributing food parcels to make sure the poorest families have nutritious food with which to break their fast. This year we’ve adapted our implementation to make sure people don’t crowd together, reducing the risk of spreading infection. And we’re also using our distribution to tell communities how to help protect themselves from COVID-19.

Without a doubt, coronavirus makes our work more essential, but also more challenging, than ever before.

Hearing stories of courage and resilience

It’s tough for us humanitarian workers who are working while fasting but seeing the smiles on the faces of families makes it all worthwhile. I like listening to their stories of resilience and learning how they handle the hardships they face. This calls for compassion and I see each interaction as the ultimate learning experience for me.

That poor families don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from due to our efforts is very motivational. And the generosity of donors around the world shows that those facing hardship in Mali are not forgotten.

Alhamdulillah, last year we reached over 6,000 people in my country. I pray we’ll help even more this year.

Please support our Ramadan Appeal. Your generosity will help us come together as one community and save lives together.