JEDDAH: The holy month of Ramadan is seen as a time for giving and improving one’s moral character, leading to many charitable and volunteering activities taking place across the Kingdom.
Social media platforms and apps — despite being blamed for social ills and mental health problems among the younger generation — have a role to play in spreading the Ramadan messages of selflessness.
“Ramadan is definitely an active season for us. We prepare a special new campaign for Ramadan every year,” Saeed Azhar, founder of a volunteering non-profit, told Arab News. “The technology of today has greatly helped to define the roles of voluntary groups and to show their impact both locally and globally. Apps and social media provided better channels for communication among those interested in volunteering and raising awareness of its importance and positive impact in society.”
His non-profit, Joy of Youth, has an Instagram account with more than 24,000 followers and a Twitter account of more than 9,000 followers. The group has distributed iftar food packages and handed out gifts to departing pilgrims — just two out of 55 campaigns successfully completed in the five years since it started.
“We have more projects in Ramadan, which means the opportunities we create increase greatly, and consequently the number of our volunteers also increases.”
Joy of Youth was started in 2013 by Azhar and a group of young Saudi students in the US. The group began by distributing iftar meals in Jeddah and then gradually expanded, its work reaching 10 cities in the Kingdom including Jeddah, Makkah, Tabuk, Dammam and Alkhobar.
Joy of Youth has developed the type of services offered, and this year launched a health campaign.
“Human Health” aims to raise awareness in poorer neighborhoods by distributing bulletins and brochures, and offering free medical checks for people.
Azhar said social media platforms helped Joy of Youth attract young people who wanted to contribute to improving the lives of others, as well as sponsors and charities wanting to play their role in Saudi Arabia’s social development.
“We have been able to spread our message and invite those who believe in it to join us. We saw the desire of many to leave a positive impact on their communities and their surroundings, which pushed us to expand outside the western region of the Kingdom in response to the increasing demand to participate in our initiatives,” he added.
Azhar said the downside to social media — as far as Joy of Youth was concerned — was that the group could not include as many “passionate volunteers” as it wanted to in its campaigns.
“Twitter is the most interactive platform among volunteers and those who wish to join us,” he added.
The Khadoum app is another social initiative that was developed by a group of young Saudis driven by their sense of community responsibility - and taking volunteering to another level.
“Khadoum was created in an effort to spread civic engagement and community participation among youth,” the app’s co-founder Dania Al-Masri told Arab News. “The iOS and Android app takes users on a journey that will later result in an increase in their overall empathy level and sense of leadership. It also motivates participants to acquire a higher sense of responsibility and honesty.”
She said social media had helped to spread the concept of volunteering in Saudi Arabia and inspire the public to do good. “It has been a very powerful tool used to shed light on certain causes that need intervention, and we are very happy to see more and more aware individuals use this powerful tool to advocate for a community challenge or a cause.”
Al-Masri and Khadoum co-founder Fidaa Al-Hassan started the app as a tech-based solution to civil society issues. Although the app began in Jeddah, the duo want to reach people across the Gulf.
The app enables users to unlock a set of volunteer ideas and community challenges. People are encouraged to provide solutions to the presented challenges, or complete the volunteer ideas and provide proof of completion.
The volunteer ideas and community challenges are updated on a regular basis through the app, and participants are encouraged to complete them and upload a verification photo or video. An app admin views the verification method presented, and either approves the completion of the mission or rejects it.
Upon approval of the mission, the user gains points that are equivalent to community hours and can get certificates for their work. Khadoum certificates are issued by the Oyoon Jeddah Charity.
Khadoum will be three years old in July. “Khadoum started out from the sole motivation of wanting to provide a window of opportunity to anyone who would like to volunteer. We truly wanted to make volunteering a daily habit that is convenient and accessible to all,” Al-Masri said.
She added that more people are looking to volunteer and do good deeds during Ramadan.
“We do notice an increase in the engagement level. We find Ramadan the perfect opportunity to partner up with brands and help them achieve their corporate social responsibility goals through collaborating with Khadoum,” she said.