President of IMSA and UNE staff member, Mr Rami Bahnas, who has been involved in providing meals to the Muslim community during Ramadan for over a decade now, says the undertaking is more complex this year because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Ramadan is a sacred month for Muslims where they fast from sunrise and sunset. Iftar signals the end of the fast and is eaten at sunset.
“Previously we would book large halls and provide Iftar to people as they came in,” Mr Bahnas said. “Because of the pandemic we’re now unable to do so. Instead, we are working with two local restaurants, the R&H Curry House and Rendezvous Restaurant, to provide meals daily until Ramadan ends on 24 May.”
With the financial impact of COVID-19 biting deeper, funding for the project was another challenge to overcome.
“I’m grateful to UNE Life who are sponsoring 20 meals a day for the duration of Ramadan,” Mr Bahnas said. “They are also helping, alongside other IMSA and UNE volunteers, to deliver food over weekends.”
“It is a huge undertaking with over 2,000 meals prepared in 30 days. That is about 60 meals per day. We will also prepare 50-100 additional meals every Saturday to accommodate students who have registered for meals through UNE International.”
UNE International is a major partner in the project and has sponsored up to 100 meals every Saturday until the end of Ramadan. A number of its staff are also involved with delivering meals.
The UNE International meal packages are available to all international students on campus or in the community regardless of whether they are observing Ramadan or not. However, students have to register for the offering.
“Many of our international students in the region are struggling with loss of income resulting in a huge increase in financial pressures,” Pro Vice-Chancellor External Relations Mingan Choct said.
“So far we’ve had a very good response from our international students with 50 meal packs delivered over the weekend; some of them to Muslim students and some to other international students participating in the offering. I expect the numbers to increase as the month progresses,”Prof. Choct said.
In addition to the meal offerings, UNE International and IMSA are also hosting virtual Iftar events on Saturday nights from 5.30-7pm. The first event took place on the 2nd of May and the last will take place on the 23rd of May. Visit the UNE International Facebook page for more information on the virtual Iftar events.
“The spirit of Ramadan is to better ourselves and to improve on all aspects of life. Fasting is not only about abstaining from eating; it’s an opportunity to appreciate the joy food brings us, to remember the less fortunate who live without food security throughout the year, to let go of bad habits and to develop our mental and spiritual strengths. I encourage non-Muslim students to join us and try fasting some days of Ramadan,” Mr Bahnas said.
“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank UNE Life and UNE International for their support this year. Their willingness to help and consideration for the Muslim community has eased the preparation for this project and made it possible.”