There are a number of charity and volunteer organisations in Oman that will happily have your time and assistance, should you choose to help them. All that is required is the will to do so. “Ramadan conveys a very important message today which we must not forget: may what unites us prevail over what divides us.” When Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees sent out this message on the occasion of the Holy Month of Ramadan, he was trying to reach out to people all over the world.
His message reminded us that although we may have our own problems to tackle, our own challenges to face, sometimes, it is important for all of us to do the right thing, and spare a thought (and some action) for those who are not as lucky as all of us are to enjoy the comforts we all take for granted.
This Ramadan, we spoke to charity organisations in Oman to find out how expats and locals alike can give back to society.
And yes, with the month of Ramadan being one of reflecting, giving and austerity, many of us are sure to wonder how we can give back to the nation that has given us so much. Across Oman, there are a number of charity and volunteer organisations that will happily have your time and assistance, should you choose to help them. All that is required is the will to do so.
When charity organisations ask for assistance, they aren’t asking for it in the form of just cash, but will be delighted to take it in kind as well. One of the country’s leading organisations is Dar Al Atta’a, which takes care of underprivileged people in the country.
There are several opportunities available to those who wish to contribute. The organisation often builds new houses for those who need it, and are currently accepting donations for several projects, including house building and maintenance, empowerment and education, Iftar meals and family sponsorships.
Dar Al Atta’a also have donation plans for those who wish to help with students’ education, by contributing towards their meals, uniforms, bags and stationery. Those who wish to help can also contribute towards paying the electricity and water bills for those who cannot afford to do so on their own, as well as assist by purchasing vital items, such as fridges, washing machines, air conditioning and basic furniture.
To do so, all you have to do is walk in to a petrol station or mall in Oman, and buy coupons for an amount of your choice from the Dar Al Atta’a representative who will be there at their kiosk.
“We have arranged coupons for donations in 26 locations all around Muscat, we have our Eid exhibitions, and we have Iftars for the communities in three mosques,” said Maysa Al Hinai, marketing manager for Dar Al Atta’a. “These coupons are for people who want to donate for certain programmes, like Sadaqah, Zakat, family welfare and student welfare, so they can go to each location, they can buy these coupons and when they buy these coupons, it is like they are donating to us.
She added: “They can donate through coupons, which are found in all the malls in Muscat, some petrol stations, Muttrah Souq and some branches of Lulu. These coupons are from OMR1 and is up to OMR50. If you buy a one Rial coupon, you are donating one Rial to us. Last year, the amount of money we received from these coupons was OMR60,000. For donations and charity work, we are also announcing to people to donate online, at www.donate.om/daralatta.”
Having collected more than OMR60,000 last year, she is hoping to cross that number and collect at least OMR70,000 towards charitable initiatives, from just these coupons. In addition, Dar Al Atta’a have organised three community Iftars in mosques in Muscat for blue-collar workers who can go there to eat after a hard day’s fasting.
About a thousand workers come to each of these mosques for food, where they are served the traditional Iftar meal complete with laban and dates. In addition, 600 to 800 donations of food boxes were made to underprivileged families during Ramadan. While most families did receive these boxes, some homes that had little children and the elderly who could not eat the food in these boxes received cash donations instead, so that food could be bought for them.
Maysa said that volunteering wasn’t just about donating goods but also people using their skills to help those who needed it.
“Volunteering does not mean just getting things and distributing them to others,” she said. “Volunteering can be done in many ways. Maybe people can volunteer to upgrade our website, they can help us with social media, they can help with certain programmes, certain events, give us a percentage from their businesses, this kind of help really makes a difference. If they want to come and volunteer, they can approach us in our office in Boushar.
She added: “If anyone wants to donate any furniture or any other goods, they can go to our second-hand shops. There are many goods there at reasonable prices, even for the workers here. We are selling many items that are donated to us. When we donate to any family, we give them some items, and it is important that we give them items that are in the right condition. This is better than forcing them to go and fix it every time there is a problem.”
Another organisation that is calling on people to donate their time and skills to those who need it are the Psychology of Youth Volunteering Team, a group of mental health professionals who work with families whose members have mental health issues, but may not always have access to care.
They recently launched a parenting website for young parents, especially those who have mentally challenged children. Titled Wahaj Oman – Wahaj being the Arabic word for ‘glow’ or ‘light’, the website provides a complete directory of mental health services that people can avail of, in addition to events where they can meet other families in similar conditions.
The site also contains advice collated by parents and contributions; from doctors and psychologists to psychiatrists in Oman. Having launched this site in Arabic, Abeer Al Mujaini, the founder of the group, has now called on people to lend their expertise towards translating this into English so that the expat community in the country can also receive assistance.
Once done, both of these directories will be additionally made available in the form of a smartphone app to allow for easy access to people.
“The website is in Arabic, and it is called Wahaj Oman, and in the future, we are making an English version, because we need to assist expats as well,” she explained. “It took over one year to make this website, and it was a team effort to bring this out. We are going to have a translated version soon, but we will aim for the translation of the directory first because that is important for expat families.
She also said: “We want to bring out this translation and then launch the English and Arabic versions of this directory in an app. We are looking to do this in the coming year, but we are looking for the funding at the moment. All of this was made internally by the team, we had no help with any external funding and we did it on our own. We are under the legal umbrella of the Children First Association, and that is under the Ministry of Social Development.”
With regards to their activities during Ramadan, Abeer said, “We are doing a social media campaign for the relevance of psychology in Islam, so we have lessons on the cultural and social history, combined with psychology.”
Being a group of well-educated, intelligent volunteers themselves, Abeer Al Mujaini and the Psychology of Youth Volunteering Team had a new perspective to share on the importance of volunteering and its association with mental health.
She revealed: “It is actually psychology – part of the treatment in psychology is to help others, so by helping others, our mental health actually becomes better. You don’t have to be specialised in mental health to help others, but it is extremely important to serve others to and it is important part of well being itself. We advocate efforts for volunteering in any aspect of the human life. Any form of giving back will provide you fresh perspective in life and provide better well-being.
“Because most of our volunteering acts are around mental health, the people we help as volunteers are happy to see us, since psychologists are a bit rare in the country,” said Abeer. “It is actually quite uncommon to have psychologists with degrees engage at the ground level and deliver workshops to people on how to deal with anxiety and things like that. It is a very unique form of volunteering, and we are giving our volunteers the chance to address things from a scientific and an evidence-based perspective. It is very unique to the team and we are happy to assist any association.”
While Ramadan may be a time for giving, one of the top diplomats in Oman has praised the many selfless efforts people in the country have undertaken, but added that these initiatives needed to be year-long and involve more volunteers, so that more could benefit from this, in addition to spreading the duty of volunteering among everyone.
Speaking to T Weekly, Munu Mahawar, India’s Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman, said: “Well, I would say this is an activity we do throughout the year, not just limited to the month of Ramadan. Yes, there are special events and Iftars that we organise to reach out, but in terms of social welfare as such, we work closely with the representatives of the Indian Social Club’s charity wing, and the embassy also has a strong community welfare wing.
He added: “Our job is not only to ensure the welfare of the Indian community, but also to partner with the friends in Oman and to work for mutual benefit. This is something we don’t think is limited to just Ramadan, but if there is any specific activity we are planning to do, we will definitely do so. As I have said, as the embassy, we are available to all, and if there are any queries or concerns or issues on which people would like our inputs, we are available.”
While many organisations in Oman are looking to help at a local level, those who wish to contribute to international agencies are also welcome to help. One such setup is Human Concern International, a Canadian Muslim charity that was launched 40 year ago, and is currently collecting donations for its Ramadan Family Assistance initiative.
Founded in 1979, Human Concern International has contributed across many scenarios where aid was needed, including the 1985 East Africa Famine, 1993 Bosnia Crisis, 2010 Pakistan Floods, 2011 Somalia Famine, and the 2015 Syrian Crisis. This year, the organisation are looking to provide food baskets to the needy in 18 nations, such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burundi, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lebanon, Sudan, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
“For the past 40 years, Human Concern International has been diligent in addressing the most basic needs of people suffering in more than 30 countries,” said a statement from the charity. “Our Ramadan Family Assistance Programme, which addresses food security, malnutrition, and the mental well-being of families living under the poverty line, is informed by research carried out by international aid organisations, and our activities on the ground are based on needs assessment.
“Our work prioritises children and women who are the most vulnerable,” added Human Concern International. “We do not push our programme on any individuals or families, rather we strive to make sure that the community we are serving has a say in the design of the way the programme is run. Our values continue to guide our work and we take deep pride in our Islamic roots and identity. The values we hold dear are eternal and shared by all of humanity; they permeate all aspects of our work and guide our actions and decisions.”
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