Sweetening the Holidays

24 October 2013
Young volunteers prepare ma'moul for Jaramana residents

As the call for Eid prayers sounded from a mosque in Damascus, a group of young people nearby did not head home to spend the holiday with their families. Instead, they rushed to the Palestine refugee camp of Jaramana, where they had volunteered to make and distribute the traditional sweet of ma’moul to Palestine refugees who had sought refuge from the ongoing conflict in United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) collective shelters.  

“For many of the displaced refugee families, holiday sweets and gift-giving are out of reach,” explained one of the volunteers, Safaa Mahmoud. “Eid is incomplete without sweets.” The 70 young men and women rolled up their sleeves, whisking together the flour, salt, sugar, oil and baking powder and filling the shelter with the sound of laughter and the smell of ma’moul. 

The enthusiasm and support of the young volunteers exemplified the spirit of Eid al-Adha, an important Muslim festival that celebrates giving in the name of Allah. It was especially important in light of the ongoing conflict, which meant that for many families, the holiday marked one more day of displacement, loss, insecurity and frustration. 

The young volunteers were determined to make the holiday a pleasant memory. They were inspired by a course they took through the UNRWA Engaging Youth project, funded by the European Union, which aims to help young people develop skills and engage with community initiatives. The course stimulated, challenged and encouraged participants as they worked together to plan, conduct and evaluate quality experiences. One of the results was the ‘Eid Sweets Initiative’, which brought ma’moul to some 2,000 displaced Palestine refugees.  

One of the volunteers, 23-year-old Maher Mhailan, was sweating as he carried trays to be baked. He explained, “Providing sweets is a way of making the holiday special for impoverished families affected by the conflict. I had wanted to help a good cause, and now I’m in a position to do so.” 

The young people’s initiative was important to the Palestine refugees from Yarmouk, Sbeineh and Husseinieh who had gathered together at Jaramana. “Planning for a happy Eid is hard if you feel you lack the financial resources to celebrate properly with your children, and especially when you experience displacement,” said one resident, Um Ahmad. “The best thing about this initiative is seeing the joy in children’s eyes as they eat the sweets. Everybody seemed to have a good time and hopefully could forget about their worries and concerns for at least one day.”