Charity distributed from Sana’a home’s front door

National Yemen

Ramadan charity: from home to hand

By the editor

During a post-Iftar drive down one of the Sana’a’s main streets this past Thursday, a thick crowd was seen assembled before the gated entrance to a residence. At first sight, it appeared to be a protest staged by a portion of Sana’a’s marginalized population, a protest against some form of injustice.

After overcoming an initial hesitation to photograph the crowd, it soon became clear to the National Yemen that it was the act of waiting – not protest – that surrounded us.

Hundreds of men and women – clearly poor – and many with children in tow or with babies sheltered by blankets and cradled in arms stood or sat before a large metal gate which itself appeared to be waiting to open. A policeman, one of many who appeared to be waiting for some form of trouble to manifest itself, attempted to usher us away.

Almost immediately, a young man signaled to us from the gate – before warmly welcoming us onto the property itself. He turned out to be one of the sons of a businessman who, since deceased, years before had started an informal tradition – in the beginning, at least – of handing out cash to those in need during Ramadan. The father had passed away, but the sons were in the act of carrying on the tradition. While the sons warmly welcomed the National Yemen to stay and take photos, they were adamant – though again, warmly so – that their names not be printed or identities revealed.

Soon enough, with some amount of clamor and release, the gates were opened by soldiers and a steady stream of women and children poured onto the open area in front of the family home. One of the sons explained how a simple approach solved the problem of handing out money to such a large number of individuals in an organized way.

First the women and boys were ushered onto the property, and the gates shut behind them. One by one, the women would then pass through the house, each receiving an amount of cash before again exiting the property. Meanwhile, men waited outside the main gate for their turn to enter, and for the same process to be repeated.

From amongst the crowd of women and children, which had by then spread out in the large area in front of the home, a proud, nervy voice addressed  National Yemen in English. Her name was Fatima Mohammed Al-Azzi, 10 years old and a 4th grade student at Raba’a Al-Adawiya School in Sana’a. While many women covered their faces and avoided the voice recorder, and while children her age or younger skittered in and out of view, Fatima, her eyes pressed forward, explained that she was her at the late businessman’s home for the second consecutive year, to receive money with which to help pay her family’s rent and buy clothes for Eid.

Her father had passed away, her mother was sick with heart disease, and her two sisters and one brother were all handicapped. After relating these difficulties, though, she said, “We come here during Ramadan, but we never beg on the streets.”

Fatima said she hadn’t run away from school and her classmates don’t run from her as a marginalized girl and they like her. She was talking and smiling to us. Happy to paint a broader picture than her present, somewhat hectic surroundings provided, she said that she was interested in continuing her education, that she had the ambition of becoming a doctor, and finally, that she had no interest in going to the United States.

While she said she wished to remain in her country, Fatima did complain about international NGOs, which work in the field of charity and aid, saying that she hadn’t seen anything from them and that such organizations never come out to see people living in poverty-stricken conditions. When asked whether she would return to the property again in the future, she said, “I don’t know.”

Confident as can be, yet a request for a photograph of her face was met with a defiant “no.”

With the area in front of his family home teeming with strangers, with many more waiting outside, one of the late businessman’s son’s told National Yemen, “This is charity, and we give it away. We don’t want to have our names printed, but we’re happy to have you here. Feel free to take as many photos as you want.”

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