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Helping the needy in Oman on World Food Day
October 17, 2019 | 6:46 AM
by Gautam Viswanathan
 
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Around the world, there are nearly a billion people who do not get enough food. Yes, nearly a billion, or about one in seven people across the globe.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has determined that there are 820 million people on our planet who simply do not get the right kind of food to eat. Worse still, many of them just do not have enough food to put on their plates.

820 million people. That’s a vast number, and if you were to look at fixing this problem, you’d think that the solution was simple ... produce more food. While crops will take several months, if not years, to bear yields, the answer is actually quite different ; it’s not about simply producing food, it’s also about ensuring that the food that reaches the right people – those who need it most — is both nutritious and affordable.

There is no world shortage of food, just a lack of its availability in some areas, and this alone makes the problem easier to fix. How do we know this ? Well, that’s another fact the FAO have highlighted. Across the world today, there are more people who are overweight and obese than there are malnourished and underfed. It is quite clear, therefore, that there is an imbalance in terms of who can access food and what sort of food is available to them.



While the FAO is working globally towards a world with Zero Hunger on World Food Day, it needs to do so with local partners on the ground.

In Oman, where many of us are fortunate to have ready access to not just plentiful food, but good quality food, there are still some who need aid, and it is organisations on the ground that help alleviate this. One of these is Dar Al Atta’a, a charity which works under the direction of the Ministry of Social Development, which formulates policies to address the concerns of those who require assistance, in line with FAO guidelines, and wherever necessary, their collaboration.



On World Food Day, 2017 Dar Al Atta’a gave food boxes to nearly 700 needy families. They had begun their donation drive towards this on the first of the month, and by the end of it, had more than enough to meet the needs of those who required help, owing to the many generous donations received.

“Every year, we announce our campaign by the 1st of October, so that we can take donations of dry food. We get donations from individuals as well as businesses” said Maysa Said Al Hinai, Marketing Director at Dar Al Atta’a “We pack this food into boxes and then sort through them, while preparing a list of people who need this food.

“Volunteers answered our call to come help us at Al Bahja Hall, “ she added. “We sorted this food into boxes, then allocated them to each of the 700 families that need assistance. We have two kinds of needy families: those that we support every month for a fixed duration where we give them cash to buy basic things, and we also have seasonal assistance where we help on certain occasions, such as the beginning of the new school term, during Ramadan, or during Eid.



“We have 270 families that we help on a monthly basis, and another 420 that we can help seasonally,” added Maysa. “This is around 690 families in a year. We distribute this food for them. In addition, we also have a waiting list. We distribute extra boxes of food to the families that are on this waiting list. A box we give contains all the dried foods, such as rice, wheat, flour, canned food, milk powder, tea and coffee. We get many donations and each family receives one box of food.”

At the recent United Nations General Assembly, the new Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, Qu Dongyu, spoke about the importance of achieving food security, one of the key targets for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are fair living, employment, healthcare and education standards for all, as well as protecting the Earth’s environment and safeguarding its land and marine life. SDGs are split into 17 objectives which the UN is pushing member nations to achieve, as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted by all Member States in 2015.

In his speech, Dongyu stressed the need to ensure that everyone was incorporated into the SDGs, and asked member countries to ensure that nobody was left behind. After all, food systems and nutritional patterns are one of the six areas that need to be addressed for structural transformation in the way we live, particularly at the necessary scale and speed that is required if the SDGs are to be achieved. On the ground, Maysa and her team of volunteers at Dar Al Atta’a are indeed ensuring that no one is left behind, bridging the gap between global concerns and local needs.

“Each box lasts for about three months, which is a long time. Sometimes, when we get more donations – for example, we received plenty of sacks of rice this time – we give it to families, so they have about 30 to 40 kilos of rice that lasts them for a month,” she said. “In 2017, we received boxes for nearly 450 families, and we distributed these through our team.

“We have three options for people to get their food from us,” added Maysa. “We can either deliver it to them, if they are in Muscat; if they live outside, then we give it to the office of the Omani Women’s Association in their region, and they can collect it from there. Also, they can come to us and collect it, if they have transport. We have two stores – one in Bowshar, and the other in Ruwi.

“This year, we received good donations of food from the hypermarkets, hotels and individuals,” she went on to say. “People keep asking us how they can help the families that need assistance, and what items these families need. The values of charity are strong in Oman, and people don’t donate on just one occasion. They return to donate again and again.”

While people in Oman have of course shown their generosity and donated more than willingly to help those who do not have enough, Maysa says that Dar Al Atta’a have a very firm policy when it comes to registering new aid seekers, so that people cannot exploit the system for their own needs, disadvantaging others who actually require assistance.

Maysa was quick to share these procedures with T Weekly, to spread awareness of how the selection process for the aid lists works. It is hoped that our readers will understand the rules and share this knowledge with others, so that more people will become familiar with the process and, ultimately, encourage others who need aid to use it.

“We provide our donors with a list of goods that are needed by families, and donors also ask us if they can support families for a longer period of time,” said Maysa. “We have a way to identify needy families, because we do studies on the families that come to us. If they are genuine, then they will go on our database, but if they aren’t, and don’t comply with the rules, then they will not be part of our list.”

She went on to explain, “There are a number of procedures they need to follow. For example, they need to provide a certificate that actually says they need aid. In addition, we provide support to widows who need it, but they must prove that to us as well. If they are divorced, then they need to provide the paperwork. It is quite a lot of research that we have to do to see if the person does need aid, but it is necessary.

“Someone who needs help from us but does not know where to obtain these documents can go to the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Manpower. They also need to be registered with the Ministry of Social Development, because we don’t want to accidentally give someone a double donation, meaning someone else is not getting his share. There are many associations in Oman that provide help to needy people, and we must give first priority to those who do not get aid from anywhere else, because they are the ones who truly need it. We are also accountable to our donors, so we need to make sure that everything we do is transparent. We have to be careful, because sometimes, people can use these donations for their own reasons, and, if this happens, the aid we provide will not reach those who truly need it,” said Maysa.

Food donations aside, Dar Al Atta’a also run a whole range of aid programmes, to which people are more than welcome to contribute. Some of these are seasonal, and include donations towards the payment of school fees, as well as the financing of new homes, while others are more regular. These include voluntarily paying a needy family’s electricity and water bills, buying them school stationery, purchasing household appliances, provision of a student’s daily meals, and providing equipment to schools whenever required.



Other ways in which people can help include the donation of money in the form of zakat – the Islamic tradition of always providing for the less fortunate – paying for a college student, either in part or in full, helping to buy school uniforms, or paying for the building of new schools. Dar Al Atta’a also offer a number of training courses so that people can themselves give back to society. These include first aid programmes, teaching programmes and care programmes for students with special needs.

“We are starting now with the National Hospitality Institute, and previously, people from Talabat – the food delivery service – employed two people from needy families,” said Maysa. “We also have a programmed called ‘Min Baity’ (at home) where we have four women who were working at home to make pickles. Their businesses are registered with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and we provide them branding, and these products are then stocked at Spar Hypermarket and Lulu Hypermarket.”

She added: “Right now, needy people in Oman require money and jobs. We have a special programme called Empowerment, which provides young people and women with the chance to run their home businesses or have jobs through companies with which we have associations. Right now, we have a programme called Training, where young people from needy families will be given a chance to have a job.”

Charitable organisations like Dar Al Atta’a aside, conscientious business owners are also doing their bit to help the needy in Oman. One of them is Deepak Daryani, a restauranteur in the country. Like many Indians who move to Oman and the GCC countries, he too calls the Sultanate his second home. Deepak owns three restaurants in Muscat – Kesar in the Central Business District and Studio 968 and Jashn in Al Khuwair.

Having been brought up with the values of helping those who require it, Deepak is now making this philosophy more inclusive in his business. On the occasion of World Food Day, Deepak vowed to give all the earnings made by Jashn Restaurant to Dar Al Atta’a, so that they could help the needy in whatever manner they thought was best.

“We will be giving the proceeds of the entire sales that we make on that day,” he said. “For example, if we bring in OMR 1,000, 30 to 40 per cent of that amounts to our food costs, so essentially, we are giving 30 per cent from our pocket, and the other 70 per cent comes from whatever the customer spends with us. We will give the money as is, we will not subtract anything from that for our use. On average, we do about OMR 300 to 500 on weekdays, but on that day, we need people to come and spend so that we can donate more.

“I am continuously working to try and make our restaurant more sustainable,” added Deepak. “For example, we are trying to do away with plastic and to bring in a zero-waste policy for our food. We can use the skin and peels of vegetables to make food as well. In addition, a lot of people sometimes come to our restaurant and ask for food, so I am planning to put a fridge outside my restaurant from where needy people can grab a meal if they need it.

“It is not going to be a very fancy meal, but a more basic one, with curry, rice, roti and dal, which is what you need to survive. They will be pre-packed and made every morning. We will start with five or 10 meals and place it there with bottles of water. People are welcome to come and take it, no questions asked.”

Deepak’s idea to put his beliefs into action came when he first saw labourers toil away in the hot sun, laying cables and repairing water and sewage pipes in the baking heat. He would often offer them simple meals made in his restaurants, as well as water and laban to reduce the adverse effects of working under the sun.

He also has plans to set up a fridge from where people who need food can simply come and take it, without fear of any judgement or repercussion, so that they can slake their immediate hunger and not worry about where their next meal is going to come from. Deepak has already received permission from Muscat Municipality to set up this fridge and is waiting on permission from the landlord of the property.

“A lot of people in Oman are facing difficulties at the moment, but we are still more fortunate than some of the others,” said Deepak, explaining his reasons behind his actions. “It is easy to do things when you are doing well, but when you are not, and you see someone worse off than you, that is when you need to help them as well. We get quite a few deprived people who come to our restaurant and sometimes, people are embarrassed to ask for food, so we decided to set up a fridge to help the needy.

“There were a lot of workers who were laying communication cables, fixing sewage lines, so we decided to help them out because they were working under the hot sun, and they were sweating profusely,” he added. “Two years ago, we gave away Ramadan boxes. We encouraged people to buy Ramadan boxes, and we matched the amount from our side. We are doing whatever small things that we can to help others. If anyone walks into my restaurants and tells us that they are hungry, I have asked my staff to not let anybody go away without food.

“We can give them some basics – a glass of water, some buttermilk and some food – but I cannot turn them away, because I believe that sometimes, when a needy person visits you, it is like god visiting you,” said Deepak. “Starting soon, I am going to keep this fridge outside. I have gotten permission from Muscat Municipality and I am just waiting for permission from the landlord. To be honest, not many people have asked me why I am doing this, but I believe that if you do good things, then good things will happen to you. There are people at the moment whose needs are greater than us.”

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