Free restaurant provides lifeline for Raqqa's poor

Free restaurant provides lifeline for Raqqa's poor
Blog: Activists in the Syrian city have established a restaurant that has become a lifeline for thousands.
3 min read
07 Oct, 2015
The Relief Kitchen provides free food six days a week [al-Araby al-Jadeed]
Abu Ahmed, a Syrian man approaching the age of 70, carries a plastic container to the Relief Kitchen in the city of Raqqa, the Islamic State group stronghold.

He hopes to receive a free meal and not return empty-handed, but there are large crowds gathered around the restaurant in this province which was once Syria's breadbasket.

Local activists opened the Relief Kitchen a year ago with donations from Syrian expats, especially those living in Gulf countries, to provide free food for the poor and refugees who have fled to Raqqa from other Syrian governorates.

Abu Ahmed looks at the gathered crowds and lets out a painful sigh at the state of his city's residents - who are finding it increasingly difficult to feed themselves and their families, and for whom the restaurant is a lifeline.

"This is only temporary. This hardship shall pass by God's grace," said Abu Ahmed as he gathered himself.

Abu Ahmed's grandchildren are waiting at home for him to come back with some food.

He has become their only guardian and provider since his two sons were forced to flee Raqqa after it came under IS control. They were part of the Free Syrian Army.

A number of Syrians living outside of the country donate money to the Relief Kitchen, which uses the resources to provide food for thousands of the city's residents.

The city suffers high rates of unemployment that have been made worse since the IS group took control early in 2014.

     For poor residents like Abu Ahmed, the Relief Kitchen is the only source of food for their families

The group's takeover also led many of the city's community activists to flee and many of its businesses to shut down, crippling a local economy heavily reliant upon agriculture and livestock farming.

For poor residents like Abu Ahmed, the Relief Kitchen is the only source of food for their families.

The kitchen publishes the names of donors and the amounts they donated on Facebook as an expression of gratitude, though some donors prefer to remain anonymous.

It opens its doors to the poor six days a week and encourages people to come and receive their daily meal.

One of the youths gethered sees the staggering old man and comforts him, then takes his plastic container and fills it with rice and meat.

As Abu Ahmed walked home through Raqqa's outskirts, he remembered the days when his city was not stricken by poverty and need, and when the surrounding fields were so bountiful, they would feed the entire country.

Abu Ahmed looks up to the skies above his city - now filled with warplanes targeting IS compounds.

The city is changing before his eyes. Fear, hunger and painful apprehension are the new overlords of this once beautiful city on the banks of the Euphrates.

This is a translation from our Arabic edition.