Randa El Ozeir – The Tunisian Red Crescent (TRC)’s core value of aiding others, namely the deprived Tunisians during the current tough times, was reflected in stepping up and collaborating with Dar Ben Gacem, a 17th-century boutique hotel in Medina of Tunis. The initiative supported 45 families and 75 homeless persons before and over Ramadan.

Looking for a way to contribute during the crisis of COVID-19 and feeling the necessity to help, Leila Ben-Gacem, the CEO of Dar Ben Gacem, consulted with her accounting officer and long-time TRC volunteer, Abir Saidi, who told me about the TRC’s Social Activity Team idea of a Meal Program delivered to the needy families and those who lost their jobs. Ben-Gacem described how the initiative crystalised, “there is no better organization to partner with more than the TRC. Its Medina offices are adjacent to our guesthouse that I had to close. I also know most of the volunteers of TRC and admire their dedication and integrity, and they are our reference in the hygiene steps. So, we implemented the required COVID-19 safety measures on our guesthouse staff and all the TRC volunteers by wearing facemasks, washing hands frequently, and keeping social distancing throughout the process”.

Sonia Bin Saïdane, the Social Coordinator at TRC, showed up every day to lend a hand and manage 38 volunteers, who worked hard to collect in-kind and monetary donations for the eligible individuals. “By my physical presence, I ensured the volunteers performed to our standards and simultaneously did the job in favourable and safe conditions”.

The Meal Program was the fruit of teaming up between the private sector and the TRC to lessen the financial ordeal and stressful situation of 45 underprivileged families, that totaled 140 individuals approximately, in addition to 75 homeless persons, as well as delivering 100 food baskets. “It was a two-part activity: one done by a well-known and authentic restaurant in the Old City, Dar Slah, that took care of the Iftar and Suhur meals over the Holy Month, and the second part consisted of handling the dinner meals before and during Ramadan by the Chefs Slim Douiri and Amine Abbas”, explained Bin Saïdane.

Recounting the work, Ben Gacem said, “the 100 meals were cooked at Dar Slah Restaurant and brought to our guesthouse, and 75 other meals were prepared in our guesthouse’s kitchen where the TRC team, wearing their logo jackets, met daily to sort out and pack the cooked food in containers and bags readying it for delivery. Our guesthouse was a beehive, and our team became volunteers in the process! My team and I are thankful that we were able to collaborate with the TRC”. The joint initiative led primarily by Ben-Gacem and Bin Saïdane proved that “women’s leadership is empathetic and drives communities towards much-needed systemic change”.

“Rather than feeding the hungry on the permanent Iftar tables in our restaurant, the TRC turned to the mobile tables through our volunteers’ earnest work and the contributor partners to achieve the success of the Program despite the health circumstances due to COVID-19”, explained Bin Saïdane about the challenge that the Program encountered.

In order to identify the vulnerable population in Medina of Tunis, the TRC volunteers invested their effort in a field inspection to ensure the accuracy of the eligible individuals. They also relied on existing lists, tracked by the Madina’s local authority, that have names of Iftar tables’ regular beneficiaries for years. Hisham Al-Harizi, who is 32 years old and a volunteer since 2011, said, “I volunteered in the Iftar tables, for I am from the area, and learned more about the TRC and its activities. Even with the exceptional situation due to Corona virus, we answered the call of duty and helped the eligible people to preserve their health”.

The proof that the TRC is staying in the frontline and on the ground to join efforts with the government in its fight against COVID-19 came in one of the beneficiaries’ own words, Lamia, a 40-year-old widow and mother of three kids, who said, “the situation was difficult due to Corona, and my unemployment made things worse. But thanks to the support of the TRC volunteers who visited us regularly during Ramadan, we had a dinner meal and Suhur. They also supplied my kids with some of their needs. Thank you because you were the reason of my happiness and my kids’, and the reason of our staying healthy”.

General Background:

The Tunisian Red Crescent (TRC) is an organization of public interest that was founded in October 1956 as a Tunisian humanitarian association. After getting recognized by a decree, it became a member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent in September 1957 and has 21 regional branches and 244 local committees.