In partnership with Media City Qatar During Ramadan, some Muslims go the extra mile by performing additional prayers, reading the Quran, or squashing negative tendencies like eating junk and gossiping. For Aisha Ornella Aniotrih cooking for the homeless children completes her Ramadan.
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Ramadan is regarded as the holiest month of the year for an estimated 1.8 billion Muslims around the world. Devotees observe the month by fasting or abstaining from food, drink and other vices from sunrise to sunset.
Some go the extra mile by performing additional prayers, reading the Quran, or squashing negative tendencies like eating junk and gossiping. For Aisha Ornella Aniotrih, giving charity completes her Ramadan.
"This is the time I can give more. This is a chance for me to become better than I was before," Aisha tells SCENES.
Aisha uses her time wisely by cooking and distributing food to the homeless children of the Kisenyi slums in Uganda's capital, Kampala. She first encountered these children five years ago when she noticed them collecting discarded plastic bottles to sell to recyclers. Later, a friend told her that the children were Muslims and that they fast during Ramadan.
"These kids sleep on the streets, whether it's cold or sunny, whether it's raining. Every day of their lives, they don't even know where they're going to get something to eat. Yet the following day, they fast again and again and again. That inspired me," Aisha says.
A time for charity
While Aisha is motivated, her mission is hard work. "You're looking at 200 kids. I wondered what I could do to help them eat the food when it's still hot and to help myself get it there in one piece," Aisha explains.
At this time, Aisha met John Baptist Galiwango, a social worker who helps rescue and rehabilitate children. "We call them street-connected children, not street children, because the street does not produce children," he explains.
According to John Baptist, these children become homeless for various reasons. Some are orphaned, and some are runaways from abusive families. The 32-year-old social worker provides them with temporary refuge at a shelter.
John Baptist had space at the shelter for Aisha to cook and the children to break their fast at dusk. On the menu are Uganda's staples like potatoes, rice, beef, soup and beans with cassava - a hearty meal for the children who often go for days without food.
Tough life on the streets
"Our normal days on the street are not easy at all because we suffer too much. We struggle to get food. Someone in the gang can come and beat you or can take your things," says 15-year-old Hakim. He left his home eight years ago due to a conflict with his father and has been living on the streets ever since.
In the densely populated Kisenyi slum, John Baptist estimates 3,500 children are homeless. Each night, Hakim, like most children living on the streets in Kisenyi, struggles to find a safe spot to lay his sack to sleep on.
Shaped by the harsh conditions of street living and various life traumas that brought them there, the children are hardened, and some instinctively respond violently. Thus, social workers like John Baptist have their work cut out for them.
Ramadan rescue and rehabilitation
John Baptist says he is pleasantly surprised that the children are more receptive during Ramadan. "Rescuing children in Ramadan is easier because these children are already touched. They know that Ramadan is a holy month. They are approachable," he says.
He takes advantage of this religious period to reach out to and counsel the children. Encouraged by the spirit of Ramadan, the children often forgive each other, and some even reconcile with their parents and return home.
"They deserve to be loved just like any other child. They have the ability and the potential to achieve their goals. And this is why we are here, to help them achieve that," John Baptist adds.
According to Aisha, the simple initiative of feeding homeless children during Ramadan has a positive ripple effect.
"You feed them today, for you, you finish your part. But this kid is going to live one more day, to fast one more day. It's something that fills me up because you're giving someone out there hope to live one more day," she adds.
Having a full stomach is a rare occurrence for homeless children like Hakim.
"Not everybody wants to give us a meal. To get someone to give you a meal, just know that you are blessed," Hakim says.
Aisha hopes that her initiative can run all year round in the future so that the children living in the streets of Kisenyi can always find a meal, whether it is Ramadan or not.