The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the social, political and economic issues that marred Egypt in the turbulent decades that preceded it—from crumbling infrastructure, to underfunded healthcare and social security systems. But in the midst of the tragedy and adversity, some managed to maintain their capacity for hope.
One such group are the young men and women behind the Initiative for Healthy Meals for COVID-19 Patients in Home Isolation. Founded by Egyptian journalist Basma Mostafa, the initiative receives reports about COVID-19 cases managing symptoms from home. A network of volunteers then organizes according to their geographic distribution to prepare and deliver healthy, balanced meals to COVID-19 patients in home isolation for free.
Volunteer delivery persons follow all public health and safety regulations and don’t come into contact with patients. Instead, volunteers leave the deliveries outside the patients’ doorsteps and notify them through a phone call once they have exited the building.
The group has been operating for a month now. Since its launch, the Initiative for Healthy Meals for COVID-19 Patients in Home Isolation has prepared and delivered over 6,000 meals to more than 2,000 cases.
Mostafa explains that she was inspired to launch the initiative after seeing how the pandemic affected her mental health.
“When the number of COVID-19 deaths started to increase, I felt like that was it, we were all going to die, so why not die now instead of getting infected and suffering? I would literally do nothing all day. I didn’t move or get out of bed, I couldn’t interact with my daughters. I would sleep all day and I had suicidal tendencies,” she recounts in an interview with Al Nahar network.
Upon hearing that many restaurants and cloud kitchens were refusing to make home deliveries to COVID-19 patients, Mostafa says she was spurred to action. Much like the banana bread frenzy that swept social media during lockdown, Mostafa says that cooking provided her with an outlet for her frustration.
“One day, I thought, how can I do something now, at this very moment, when I feel like I am suffocating and everything is grinding to a halt, to help me and those around me?” She says. “I am someone who loves to cook and I enjoy the entire process of cooking, so I felt that that could be my act of survival and resistance to help myself and others. I would be very happy to know that the food I cooked helped someone recover.”
In addition to Mostafa, the initiative is co-led by a core group of six founding members and organizers—Radwa Shalash, Farah Badrawy, Ranwa Yussif, Nancy Fares, Anas Hassan and May El Shamy—and comprises a network of 1500 volunteers who serve known COVID-19 cases in home isolation across Cairo, Giza, Alexandria and Assiut, but the concept its quickly reaching other governorates.
“There are other groups that began organizing after we launched. There are groups replicating the concept in Beni Suef, Fayoum, Masnoura, and the 10th of Ramadan district, they are not directly affiliated with us, but we coordinate with them when we receive reports of home isolation cases there,” journalist and founding member of the initiative Nancy Fares tells Egyptian Streets.
The original seven initially managed all aspects of the operation, preparing and self-organizing to deliver the meals and reaching out to reported cases to coordinate deliveries. But with more volunteers coming on board, the initiative has expanded the geographic scope of its operation, setting up units in each district to oversee deliveries and food preparation.
“It is now decentralized so it is easier. We [the core founding members] are now focussing on setting up units in places where we have no presence,” Fares says. “We also make the resources available to each unit and assign the cases to the units because we have the patients’ information.”
After receiving reports of COVID-19 cases in home isolation—either by patients soliciting the food delivery service or through third parties, the organization contacts the patients directly to ensure and verify the veracity of each claim. “We deal directly with the patients, even those who didn’t approach us personally. We don’t deal with middle(wo)men,” Fares asserts.
Initially, the organization delivers three days’ worth of food, but requires medical documents as proof from patients who wish to use their services for the full duration of their isolation.
“We can’t cover all 14 days of quarantine because we don’t have the resources. But if we need to, we require proof to make sure that our resources are properly allocated and are reaching those who need them most. And we follow up with the patients, each unit follows up with the cases assigned to them,” Fares explains.
The initiative receives these reports and requests via a web-based form system through which they collect the information they need to make the right food deliveries. The organization also accommodates all dietary restrictions.
In addition to the refusal of many establishments to deliver to known coronavirus cases, Fares believes that the service is vital to COVID-19 patients in Egypt because the food and beverage service industry doesn’t cater to their dietary needs.
“Egypt doesn’t have many healthy food restaurants, and they are really expensive,” she says. “You can’t order affordable, healthy food, if you are quarantining at home for 14 days and ordering in everyday.”
This adds another layer to the service, which is available for any coronavirus patients managing symptoms from home, regardless of their financial status.
However, according to data from Fares, most requests come from low-income neighborhoods, which attests to the importance of such initiatives in helping redress Egypt’s coronavirus response and its failure to alleviate the compounded pressures on economically vulnerable groups.
The initiative and the concept it has spread to the farthest reaches of the nation can also stem the spread of COVID-19 by eliminating the need for many to break health and safety regulations to provide for their families or venture out to buy groceries.
To find out more about, volunteer or make food donations to the Initiative for Healthy Meals for COVID-19 Patients in Home Isolation, contact the group via Facebook.