Volunteering: A selfless way to give back this Ramadan
May 18, 2019 | 12:35 PM
by Gautam Viswanathan

WHAT makes the Holy Month of Ramadan special? It’s a question many of us reading this article have asked our elders, at one point or another. When we were younger, we were told that fasting was one of the main pillars of the Holy Month of Ramadan.

While that is perfectly true, another of the foundations of the Holy Month involves us thinking and reflecting on how blessed we are, and looking after those who are not so fortunate.

One of the ways we are encouraged to do this is to volunteer our time and efforts towards causes that we hold dear to our hearts, or those efforts that require our assistance. To find out how people can help volunteer during Ramadan, we spoke to volunteer organisations in Oman.

One of them was International Volunteers Oman ( IVO), an organisation that runs voluntary efforts for disadvantaged communities across the world. Set up in Oman with the aim to inspire and provide volunteering training programmes for Omanis and other nationals to reach out to the needy, the organisation focuses on providing youth new perspectives through volunteer work which aim to enable people to step out of their comfort zones.

Mohammed Al Touqi, founder and CEO of International Volunteers Oman, which happens to be a registered SME set up through Knowledge Oman’s Social Entrepreneurship Development Programme, said he had been on at least 34 of the more than 60 volunteering drives that IVO had set up. He shared with people some of the initiatives he’d spearheaded, and asked residents and citizens in the country to help contribute their time. “We have programmes with orphanages both in Mombasa, Kenya and Zanzibar in disadvantaged communities,” he told.

“We also have volunteers from Denmark in Zanzibar supplying food and in Mombasa, Kenya where we support two orphanages with food for the entire month; however, at the same time our objectives are making all orphanages self-sustainable either by cultivating crops or poultry farming. We also celebrate Eid with the less fortunate ones.”

With regards to volunteering, Mohammed said people learned to be more grateful for the things they had when they realised just how much they had been given, as compared to some others who would not have been so lucky.

“It is a need by the person himself/herself which leads to appreciation of the little things we take for granted in Oman,” he explained. “The moment someone is exposed to real life situations such as working with limited resources to teach, sleeping without ACs, and seeing how other human beings are happy with less fortune is a life changing experience. Ramadan is an opportunity to start giving which will lead you to want to volunteer in educational programmes and you will see first hand evidence the difference you are making.

He added: “Ramadan is a great seasonal opportunity to start volunteering either by joining others to supply food in mosques for people to break their fast or helping your family and friends with gathering at a small scale and later on do more challenging volunteering programmes. Doing this during Ramadan gives people inner peace, happiness and brings people together to cherish each other which is also an Omani identity.”

In addition to being appreciative of the things we had, Mohammed said that volunteering to help those who needed assistance also helped us evolve and advance as human beings, providing us greater perspectives on situations we would have otherwise taken for granted. In many ways, volunteering provides us a purpose to contribute towards a greater goal, which people can only achieve if they work together.

Al Touqi said: “The bond of being together grows each day during Ramadan with everyone having a common goal. The most importance knowledge for us is to reflect on knowing that Ramadan is the Holy Month in which the Holy Quran was sent down, as a guide to mankind and also clear signs for guidance between what is right and wrong.

“My advice would be to live a life which is full of potential and success as a complete human being is to a global citizen by helping each other and being a unique leader,” he revealed.

“By being a unique leader at least six leadership skills can be gained from volunteering abroad which are developing your own personal brand, learning from new environments, building confidence and passion, reflecting on yourself by connecting with others, it’s a huge opportunity to make a difference and of course stepping outside your comfort zone.”

Mohammed Al Touqi’s organisation is however just one of many avenues available to people. Like many other charitable groups in the country, Al Jisr Foundation is another that helps those who need it within the Sultanate.

Al Jisr are currently looking for volunteers to help them on the ground across all of their community outreach programmes. Those who wish to sign up as volunteers can do so on their website,

They specialise in providing grass root opportunities in the fields of healthcare and education so that communities can develop themselves in a sustainable manner. Every Ramadan, Al Jisr also provides daily Ramadan iftar meals to people in various locations, with over 1,000 people benefiting from this on a daily basis.

In addition, the foundation previously donated over 150 Ramadan kits to families in the Muscat Governorate. Al Jisr also visits hospitals in the capital to provide Eid vouchers and Ramadan coupons to hundreds of patients.

“Voluntary work is to provide aid and benefits to a person or a group of people who need it without any financial or moral consideration,” said a statement from Al Jisr.

“It is a charitable work in all aspects. Benefits of volunteering includes enhancing humanitarian spirits, enriching existing skills and providing an insight on the challenges the community faces. Al Jisr Foundation welcomes all those who wish to volunteer with the aim of benefiting from their experience to develop the foundation’s programmes.

“The Arabic word ‘Al Jisr’ literally means ‘the bridge’ – a universal symbol of progress, overcoming challenges, and facilitating new possibilities,” added the organisation.

“Moreover, the bridge represents networking and cooperation. Its significance to our organisation speaks for itself. In close collaboration with our continuously expanding network of expert partners, the Al Jisr Foundation enables communities to make the critical transition from poverty to opportunity through emergency healthcare and education.”

While it is definitely important to volunteer during Ramadan, Dr Nuhaila Al Rawahi, an educational psychologist in the country, said the importance of giving back to the community needed to be inculcated in people right from the time they were children, so that they would grow up understanding the value of what their parents had worked so hard for to give them.

She explained that this culture of volunteering and selflessness needed to be part of people’s lives throughout the year, instead of just for a few weeks, so that all of us would learn to better appreciate the gifts we have been given.

“Ramadan affords a sense of social belonging and unity because we all observe fasting in the same way and for the same reasons,” explained Dr Nuhaila. “I feel that this synchronicity in itself is noise reducing, allowing us all to focus on what’s important and inwardly reflect. With our busy lives, we can fall into mindless habits, many we don’t realise we have. Ramadan is powerful in that it has the ability to facilitate self-reflection by heightening our self-awareness through our increased spiritually which should go beyond the Holy Month.

With regards to people who did not understand the importance of volunteering and the primarily intangible benefits it provided, she explained: “I would encourage them to find out more and guide them to resources, if they wish to learn more. However, a ‘show don’t tell’ approach is often more powerful as behaviours can communicate more powerful messages and therefore, I would be more observant in my own practices. Many of us have heard from people that social media sometimes tends to portray people in a negative light, and this realisation is challenged by only through interactions, so, it is paramount that we understand the values of our behaviours as they communicate messages too.”

Dr Al Rawahi went on to say that while this was taught as part of the traditions of Ramadan, the act of looking within and helping us light the spark that made us move towards self-improvement needed to be a part of what schools taught children as part of their curricula, as well as a message that needed to be reinforced by parents at home from time to time.

“Reflection and looking within shouldn’t be limited to Ramadan,” she told T Weekly. “As an educational psychologist, this is a strategy that I encourage schools to adopt in a more explicit and more embedded way, but the beauty of Ramadan is not only that it is a catalyst for reflective behaviour; it is not limited to an educational context, consequently nurturing a reflective community. Furthermore, understanding that Ramadan is more than abstaining from food and drink is a great starting place.

She added: “Food and drink are the easier things to abstain from, but we also consciously abstain from bad language, arguments and poor behaviour. Reflections of these conscious restraints teaches us about our will power and our ability to create good habit, i.e. there is always room for positive growth. We strive to purify our body and soul by increasing our good deeds and spiritual consciousness – one will inadvertently become more self-aware and self-reflective in this endeavour.

Dr Nuhaila also said: “As for making amends, yes, this is something we need to do as means of purifying our body and soul. Ramadan is used to re-set and nurture good habits with the aim for them to continue on beyond the holy month. The beauty of Ramadan is that everything slows down. We strengthen that connection with God and that alone will encourage us to do the right thing and make amends. Ego is a common barrier, however, ego is softened and reduced in this month as we strive to be the best we can be. So, my advice is to make time to strengthen your connection with God.”

If you are unable to physically donate your time, however, there are many non-profit organisations around the world that require charitable donations to help people in countries where assistance is sorely required. Many of these organisations have online portals where people can donate as much money as they feel is appropriate.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is such an organisation, that has set up its Zakat Fund in order to help the most vulnerable of refugees who have unfortunately been displaced by internal conflict in their nations. To help refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), this Refugee Zakat Fund has targeted an annual donation objective of a billion dollars from the private sectors as well as as many as 22 million individual donors.

Houssam Chahin, the UNHCR head of private sector partnerships, said the organisation are looking to harness the tremendous giving power and social impact of Zakat. Currently, the programme primarily helps refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, but UNHCR are looking to now move beyond that and expand their radius of operations.

The United Nations’ cash assistance programmes ensure that 100 percent of all Zakat donations go to people most in need, so that they can spend this money on what is needed most, instead of providing them other goods they may not be able to use. Cash distribution is either given directly to refugees, through iris-scanning enabled ATMs in Jordan, or through bank cards in Lebanon.

“The realisation of this tremendous giving power, which can potentially exceed $300 billion a year, prompted us to launch a Zakat programme in late 2016 where funds were exclusively allocated to eligible refugee families in Jordan,” said Chahin. “UNHCR’s Zakat programme is fully Sharia compliant and is backed by fatwas from five leading scholars and institutions. He also said: “In their unique situations, refugees fall under at least four of the eight stipulations required by recipients of Zakat funds. Those eligible for Zakat are poor and needy, in debt, or whose journeys have been interrupted by lack of funds.”

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