Hamid al-Nil mosque in Khartoum is a world of contrasts, where people unite in their remembrance of God through chanting, meditation, prayer and dance.
Khartoum, Sudan – Only 15 minutes left before Iftar, the time to break the day’s fast, and already Khartoum’s quick-moving traffic is thinning.
As the sun drops below the horizon, groups of energetic youth take their posts at major intersections, bus stations and hospitals, equipped with food baskets and water bottles.
Preparing themselves for the call to Maghreb prayer, which during Ramadan marks the time to eat after a day of fasting, the highly organised youth form smaller groups to hand out their provisions to passersby.
“This is not new. Maybe the form of conducting it is, but the concept is as old as Sudanese society itself,” said Mohammed Akood, a member of Wosool, a youth organisation for charity and education.
“Giving is cleansing for one’s soul. Besides, even if it’s just a handful of dates or a bottle of water, it still counts,” he explained. “The joy we see in people’s faces is enough.”
During other months, Wosool’s work is centred on providing educational support for schoolchildren. But during Ramadan, the group takes on the additional responsibility of feeding the public.
The space for public coordination in Sudan, eased open by recent technologies and a vibrant new generation, has allowed Ramadan charity work to better engage society, clustering people in informal circuits of support.
Ahmed Haroun is one of the volunteers using new forms of funding to further his work. Before the advent of Ramadan, he launched a plea on Whatsapp for small sums of money through mobile credit transfer.
“Pooled together, these transfers allowed me to serve about 10 people a day, give or take,” he said.
Haroun uses the funds to help Sudanese with relatives in the hospital, who often don’t have the means or time to feed themselves when taking care of others.
“We make sure that we help them so that they can help their loved ones,” added Haroun.
Rabie Abd Alaatie, a member of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), believes that these efforts are simply the modern form of Ramadan’s long tradition of charity and aid work.
“This is a continuation of the ordinances put in place by our ancestors,” said Alaatie. “These initiatives serve in combination with official efforts and plug the gaps.”
According to political analyst Osman Mudawi, this kind of work can counterbalance other efforts that, despite being more formal, stumble over the roadblocks of inefficiency or even corruption.
“The [youths’] work … is an indication of a tendency to take initiatives outside ulterior motives, which can sometimes taint the same type of work done by politically affiliated organisations,” said Mudawi.
Ramadan is often characterised by the smell of hilomur, a traditional Sudanese drink that fills the air with its scent as people prepare its dry form before the month begins.
These kinds of traditions, coupled with large family and community gatherings, can make the month of Ramadan a time of rising costs for families.
“Some families feel resigned to the fact that it’s not going to be easy to prepare for the month. That is when we come in,” said Mohammed Khair Alseed, another volunteer.
The work … is an indication of a tendency to take initiatives outside ulterior motives, which can sometimes taint the same type of work done by politically-affiliated organisations.
Turning to his Facebook page for the latest updates on his own charity initiative, he explained how a simple idea between friends grew into a relief effort for families.
“A month before Ramadan, we started collecting donations from colleagues and friends and family to buy flour, food oil, dates, and sugar to give to families,” he added.
Their work was aided by their families, who helped identify neighbours that could use the help. Mohammed and his friends then distributed the packages they put together, giving out 31 in all.
Another group, going by the name of “Jana”, focuses on helping families with relatives that have been jailed for debt.
Their initiative allows people to seek release from jail and reunite with families back home for Ramadan.
“We launched an appeal on Whatsapp groups and opened a bank account where donations can be deposited,” said Sami Alshinawi, one of the group’s members.
By aiding vulnerable groups such as jailed mothers to pay off their debts, the group has managed to help 60 people return home for Ramadan.
“It is incomprehensible for us that a woman would be jailed for an amount as little as $10, while her children are without help,” said Alshinawi.
According to her, the initiative is on its way to achieving a second target of 100 people.
Another member of the group was proud of the fact that Jana has helped maximise the benefits of Whatsapp for charity.
“We chat all the time. But now we are able to make sure that the time we spend on social media will mean somebody ends up happy among their family.”