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Belgian woman sweetens life for homeless during Ramadan

Yasmina is a 24-year-old accountant from Brussels. During the month of Ramadan, she and her friends provide food for homeless people living in the city’s North Station.

Belgian woman sweetens life for homeless during Ramadan

Homeless children in Brussels

The children look forward to greeting Yasmina



DW reporter Yaldaz Sadakova in Brussels shares her experience meeting up with Yasmina:

I literally stumbled upon the story about Yasmina helping homeless people. It happened because I live not too far from the notorious Gare du Nord – or North Station. If you’re visiting Brussels, it’s one of the places the locals warn you to stay away from at night. It’s right by the city’s famous red light district.

I was coming home on a recent evening and for some reason decided to walk right by Gare du Nord, something I never do because it’s a detour for me.

And then I saw all the commotion – a line of homeless people waiting for food. Three young women in trendy clothes were handing out plates of macaroni and cheese.

“Want something to eat?” one of the homeless men said to me, motioning towards the line.

I assumed the women handing out food were social workers. But turned out they’re a group of friends who do this not because they belong to an organization, but just because they want to. As observant Muslims, they chose to do it during Ramadan, the month in the Islamic calendar when Muslims are supposed to do charitable things. They did it last year, too.

So, naturally, reporting this story was a fresh reminder that you don’t need to wait for someone to give you permission to make a difference. That you don’t have to start with something big – every small thing matters. That you don’t have to reach a certain age and acquire a certain amount of experience – all these women were in their early 20s.

Doing this story was also a painful reminder about how pervasive homelessness is in this city. According to official estimates, about 2,000 homeless people live here. But experts say this number is likely higher. Just a walk around downtown Brussels and the city’s other train stations would definitely confirm that.

Many of these homeless people appear to be migrants, especially from Eastern Europe, who have either lost their jobs or still haven’t found any. For example, the majority of the people helped by Yasmina and her friends are from Slovakia.

They seem to be hungry for attention. When I spoke to them, they tried to emphasize in their broken English how hard it is back home where they said they face discrimination as members of the Roma community – and how hard it is here in Belgium, where they can’t find jobs because they don’t speak the local language.

Quite depressing, especially when you consider that they’re here with their kids, who are mostly toddlers. They are, by the way, some of the most affectionate children I’ve ever met. I think the visits of Yasmina and her friends are the highlights of their day. They jump and scream around the women and grab their legs and clothes. Their faces may be caked with snot and food, but at those particular moments, they’re beaming.

Yasmina responds to them with hugs. I think that on some level, her affection does more for these kids than the actual food.

So I’m considering changing my route and walking by Gare du Nord on my way home more often. Hopefully, soon enough, I won’t be seeing these families as they get a fresh start in Brussels. But sadly, they will likely be replaced by new ones.

Date

Wednesday 31.08.2011 | 12:23

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