My Ramadan: Two Muslim women tell their stories
“Ramadan for me is the month of forgiveness and getting along with people, people we didn’t think about because of our busy days, thinking of others, sharing,” says Nihal Nassereddin, who is marking 12 years as a nutritionist for the World Food Programme (WFP).
Across the world, WFP uses cash assistance to empower people to buy the foods they need. However, in the West Bank 37,000 people of the Bedouin and herding communities, along with 35,000 people in Gaza, receive in-kind food assistance.
“We target 426,000 people of the most vulnerable and the poorest socioeconomic status with vouchers — people who live under the poverty line in the West Bank and Gaza,” explains Nihal.
In the run-up to Ramadan, Nihal and her colleagues ran a competition on a group-messaging app in the H2 area of Hebron, “the most restricted part of the West Bank”. It was for vegetarian recipes rich in iron, “because many can no longer afford meat”.
Out of 158 women in the group, who receive weekly talking points on nutrition, 33 took part in the competition — but there were 40 entries. So keen to win were a few, says Nihal, they supplied more than one recipe.
In the end, three winners were announced after they came up with the same recipe for stuffed cauliflower leaves with rice, tomatoes and vegetables.
“It was a coincidence,” says Nihal, adding: “I didn’t know that cauliflower leaves are richer in iron than spinach.” It then fell to her to deliver boxes of kitchen pots as prizes for the winners.
'Healthy food is in your house. It’s cheap, it’s affordable'
The competition came about because “we did research on iron consumption and found many people think they can only find iron in animal sources like in meat and chicken which they cannot afford,” says Nihal. “So they cannot eat healthily. We wanted to teach that you can find iron-foods in the fridge, you don’t need to pay much.”
She adds: “I want to tell people, the healthy food is in your house. It’s cheap, it’s affordable.”
Nihal says that the 40-strong staff of WFP's Palestine Country Office in Jerusalem — cut off from around 20 colleagues in Gaza — step out to enjoy each other's company when it is iftar, the time Muslims break their fast each day .
“It’s an opportunity for me as a person”, she says, “30 days of a different feeling out of 365 days”.
The mother of three adds: “Inside the office, you feel this positiveness. We are Muslim and Christians. My Christian friends never drink or eat in front of us. This respect we appreciate especially during Ramadan.”
Talar Kareem has been part of the Field Monitor team with the WFP Sulaymaniyah office in Iraq for nearly four years. She previously worked with humanitarian NGOs in Sulaymaniyah and lived in Norway for almost two years.
'Cooking together for iftar is how our family bonds'
“It was my dream and goal from when I was a child to do humanitarian work and help families who didn’t have enough,” Talar explains. “I saw people’s needs, both in Iraq and elsewhere, and wanted to help.”
“Food is also a big part of my family’s culture,” she says. “I love cooking, and getting ideas in our local food markets. Breaking the fast — also cooking together for iftar — is how our family bonds. I put a lot of effort in to prepare home-cooked lentil soup, rice, chicken for us.”
She adds: “Sometimes okra soup with meat. From our spiritual fasting, I understand first-hand how it feels to be hungry, to be thirsty, how it’s hard to think about anything else. When we visit the displaced and refugee families in Sulaymaniyah camps throughout Ramadan, I question, can they afford iftar daily? Do they have enough? I listen to their concerns and needs. And I work hard to be part of the solution with WFP.”
With Talar’s close ties to both Iraq and Norway, the subject of peacebuilding is naturally close to her heart. She is a long-time advocate for work towards peace in Iraq, as well as being an active member of the WFP Youth and International Institute of Peace and Development Studies Alumni Networks. “We share lessons learned and ideas, and brainstorm about our work on hunger, development and peace. Both with these and our field visits, they help me stay motivated even when I am fasting.”