Ahmed Kotb reports on the development of the charity business
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Egyptians are paying millions of pounds in charity, hoping it's being used efficiently
Marked by abundant TV series and commercials, overeating and rising food prices, the holy month of Ramadan is now over. As Egyptians consume three times more food in Ramadan than normal, spending on food was accompanied by another phenomenon: charity donations.
Charitable giving has long been a characteristic of Ramadan, but due to rising media campaigns by prominent charity organisations, it has become more significant in recent years, particularly with the rise of the religious tide. There are two types of charity in Islam: zakat, which is obligatory, and sadaqa, which is optional. There is also a special kind of zakat, called Zakat Al-Fitr, which has to be given out before the end of Ramadan. This year, Al-Azhar fixed a minimum of LE5 per person for Zakat El-Fitr, making it affordable to all.
According to a recent report by the Cabinet Information and Decision Support Centre (IDSC), the amount of charity money raised annually from Zakat is LE1.8 billion, averaging at an estimated LE120 per family. Half of those aged between 10 and 29 pay the zakat money, says the report.
Since not all people give out the due zakat, Egypt's Grand Mufti Sheikh Ali Gomaa believes more is needed. Gomaa has been quoted as saying that if all Egyptians paid their due zakat, there would be more than LE7 billion raised for the poor, which he believes is "enough to finance charitable projects needed to end poverty in Egypt."
The report also mentions that money raised from sadaqa amounts to LE2.5 billion annually, and that the average family spends LE272 per annum on sadaqa and other optional donations. The number of families who participated with money and work in charitable activities in 2009 was 15.8 million, donating a total of LE4.5 billion, according to the IDSC report.
In any type of charitable giving, donors like to make sure their money is used efficiently. "You have to make sure that zakat money goes to the needy," says Sheikh Emad Effat, manager of the Department of Islamic Legal Calculations at Dar Al-Iftaa. Effat also told Al-Ahram Weekly that if the giver of zakat or sadaqa does not know how to reach those in need, a well reputed organisation is the right choice. "If a charitable organisation is well known in society and is registered by the Ministry of Social Solidarity, it would be the right choice for charitable givers," Effat stated.
According to the ministry, there are more than 30,000 charitable organisations in Egypt. They received LE336 million from charitable donors in 2008, IDSC's report mentioned.
The activities of these organisations vary. Besides raising and directing donations, their activities involve establishing orphanages, receiving blood donations, taking care of blind people and the mentally handicapped, organising charity trips, getting medical supplies to the poor and helping in national charity campaigns.
"We raised LE85 million in 2009," Mamdouh Shaaban, general manager of Dar Al-Orman Charity Group told the Weekly. He added that LE73 million were invested in development projects in 16 governorates. The projects include giving cattle to poor farmers, medical supplies, and financing small kiosks where people can sell merchandise and make a living. The most important charity work that Dar Al-Orman does, according to Shaaban, is helping develop small villages and towns. Under this project, houses are enhanced and supplied with water, sewage systems and electricity.
"We have a plan to develop 100 towns in three years, from 2010 till the end of 2012," says Shaaban, adding that 33 of these have already been developed. He also said that his organisation's projects receive full support from the ministry and other government bodies, but stressed that all funding comes from charity.
As well as donating, voluntary work also constitutes charity. Indeed, the number of volunteers in charitable organisations is growing steadily. There are 5,000 volunteers in Dar Al-Orman. "Help from volunteers is highly appreciated," said Shaaban. The organisation has seven orphanages, and volunteers help teach orphans music and drawing. Ramadan creates a large volume of charity work. Over 30 per cent of the year's donations are made in Ramadan. Shaaban said volunteers have worked hard to pack 60,000 Ramadan bags, filled with basic foods and dried fruits, and distributed them to poor areas across the country.
One controversial fact about charity groups, including Dar Al-Orman, is the rising number of expensive TV and print commercials that cost a lot of money to produce. "How can we raise donations if people don't know about us?" says Shaaban, adding that any pound spent on commercials yields LE10 in return. Shaaban also pointed out that one third of the cost to pay for commercials comes from donations, another is donated by TV stations and the last is paid for by the charity organisation itself. Shaaban says that the Ministry of Social Solidarity has enacted a law that permits the use of 20 per cent of donations to finance promotion and managerial funds.
Dar Al-Orman has carried out development projects worth LE412 million from the year 2000 until 2009. "There is still much work to do; those in need seem endless," says Shaaban. With an estimated 40 per cent of the population living on a daily income smaller than LE10, charity is always welcome.