August 1st marked the beginning of Ramadan, or the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Muslims consider this month holy and hold various celebrations, but also practice routines of great discipline and self-control (including abstaining from sexual relations) during daylight hours. During these hours, Muslims also take part in the ritual of fasting. The intent is to teach Muslims virtues such as patience and humility. Another key aspect to Ramadan is performing acts of charity.
Turkish religious and political leaders have declared that this year, Ramadan goodwill should be directed toward Africa and it’s fight against hunger. Aid will be sent to Somalia and other neighboring countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya in response to the devastating drought the region is facing. The situation has exacerbated the already dire poverty in the region. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (aka the Presidency of Religious Affairs) have announced initiatives to help deliver aid to Somalia.
The Directorate of Religious Affairs and Non-governmental Organization Kimse Yok Mu (Is Anybody There) have both implemented plans focusing on mobile technology. This is an appropriate choice. Turkey’s mobile penetration is currently higher than its internet penetration.
Last Monday, The Directorate of Religious Affairs in conjunction with Turkish Religious Affairs Foundation implemented their two-part plan for Ramadan. The first part is a program called “Çağımıza Yeni Bir Komşuluk Aşısı” (A New Brotherhood Vaccine for Our Age). This program focuses on the values of building neighborly relations within Turkey in the face of the ever-modernizing society. It aims to “cure” what is ailing Turkish Society. The second phase, called “Her Evden Bir Fitre Bir İftar Afrikaya” (One Fitrah and One Iftar to Africa from Every Home), focuses specifically on the need in Africa. A fitre is an offering to charity or a donation that Muslims must give during Ramadan, and iftar is the meal that is prepared to break the fast daily. The program calls for Each Muslim to text “AFRIKA” to 5601 from any service provider to donate TL 5. Three texts adds up to one iftar for an African and two texts covers the TL 7.50 requirement for a fitre. By Friday August 5, over TL 950,000 had been donated.
Kimse Yok Mu’s campaign is nearly identical, asking people to text “ACLIK” to 5777 for a TL 5 donation. The organization has experience with these types of campaigns as evidenced by the website. Though based in Turkey, they work to bring aid to countries such as Darfur, Palestine and Haiti. Both websites allow for online donations, as well as donations via bank transfers. One key difference is that Kimse Yok Mu utilizes Facebook sharing. As the most popular social media platform in Turkey, this is a key method for spreading the word about their campaign.
Both sites could use more relevant media content. The video links on the Directorate of Religious Affairs page appear to be broken and while there are pictures of the plight in Africa on the Kimse Yok Mu site, they do not feature any of the work the organization has done in the region. This is important because there needs to be a connection between the donations and the results. A blog on the sites could also serve this purpose and allow for feedback via comments posted.
Neither site utilizes Twitter. Though the site ranks tenth in Turkey in terms of social media, the tool continues to serve as a valuable space to spread awareness about certain trending topics. A search for #ramadan brings up various Tweets about people’s activities (and lack thereof) during the holy month. People are tweeting about how hungry they are and what they are giving up during the daylight hours. Tweets from either organization would remind Twitter users that this time is about more than feeling hungry; it’s about giving. Twitter provides a captive audience with a common thread of interest. They are much more likely to donate if the organizations come to them with the information.
While these improvements could potentially help the organizations raise funds and awareness for their cause, it is admirable that this country has initiated such a widespread campaign to benefit another country. With a Muslim population of 73,619,000 according to a 2009 Pew report, Turkish donations could go a long way in relieving hunger pangs in Africa.