Sharjah: At a Ramadan tent in Sharjah’s Rolla area, a battalion of volunteers serves iftar meals to almost 1,500 people to end their fast every day this Ramadan.
This is the second Ramadan after a two-year pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic that the volunteers of Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre (KMCC) Sharjah, an Indian expat community organisation, are operating a tent to serve the blue-collar workers and other employed bachelors in the district.
Sharjah KMCC office bearers said they are grateful to the Sharjah government for resuming iftar tents post pandemic.
“This time, we are the only community organisation that has received the permission from the Labour Standards Development Authority (LSDA) and Sharjah Municipality to operate an iftar tent like this after all the COVID restrictions have been lifted,” said Nissar Thalangara, UAE KMCC treasurer.
He said the other iftar tents in the emirate have been managed by charity organisations while other approved community organisations are distributing iftars in the premises of labour accommodations and mosques.
“During COVID, we used to do door delivery of pre-packed iftar meals. We are happy we can operate a tent without COVID restrictions now,” said Thalangara.
Abdullah Chelery, acting president of KMCC Sharjah, said the LSDA allowed the organisation to operate the iftar tent named "Sharjah KMCC Iftar Tent" behind NMC Hospital near the Clock Tower in Rolla after the successful operations demonstrated by its volunteers in Ramadan last year.
“Due to the pandemic, LSDA had divided the iftar tent into two last time. This year, LSDA set up a larger tent covering the same area. So, it’s all under one roof now.”
Mujeeb Rahman, acting general secretary of KMCC Sharjah, said the organisation coordinates with individual sponsors and corporate companies in Sharjah and Dubai to source the food for iftar distribution.
“We have several philanthropic people who support this initiative. Some companies provide fruits and water while others help us get the other raw materials to prepare the iftar meals.”
Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA) is also a major supporter of the initiative by providing free water and power connections to the air-conditioned tent.
People start queueing up outside the huge tent which can accommodate more than 1,000 people by around 4.30pm. However, the passionate volunteers start arriving at the venue in batches from 2.30pm itself and would leave only after cleaning up the entire tent after iftar.
Zakeer Kumbala, who is in charge of the KMCC volunteers, said around 120 volunteers spend hours to ensure the iftar distribution goes on smoothly and systematically.
Each iftar meal box contains chicken biryani, dates, fruits, juice and water. KMCC has authorised five kitchens approved by Sharjah Municipality to prepare the biryani. By 3.30pm, the cooked food arrives at the tent where its packed by a team of volunteers.
While there is one team of volunteers packing the biryani, there is another team engaged in washing, cutting and packing the fresh fruits and dates.
Kumbala said there are three more groups of volunteers to ensure security and crowd management, to serve the iftar and to carry out the cleaning operations post iftar.
“Everyone wears the uniform green T-shirt with the logos of KMCC Sharjah and LSDA. But, the colours for the sleeves and collars differ for each category of volunteers depending on the duty assigned to them,” he explained.
From professionals to students
Himself a logistics and administration supervisor, Kumbala said the volunteers come from different walks of life.
“We have professionals like engineers and government and private sector employees, shopkeepers and others. They have been given duties as per the time at which they can arrive based on their office working hours during Ramadan.
”While most of them are experienced in managing the iftar tent, he said KMCC also ensures to train new volunteers in each category of work.
“Some of the volunteers also bring their children who are interested in this noble cause. We have a few young students who join us with their parents to help distribute iftar. We want to encourage them so that they can inspire others too,” he added.
Once the tent reaches maximum capacity, hundreds of people still queueing up outside the tent are also served. “We try to provide meals to everyone who comes in. Volunteers are finding it more comfortable this time as we don’t have restrictions for wearing mask, checking temperatures and maintaining social distance like last time,” said Kumbala.
The tent has also been hosting senior officials from various government departments in Sharjah who address the attendees.