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Born to help: Syria bikers deliver Ramadan meals

The bikers don their club's signature vest when they ride off to deliver food so Muslims recipients can break their daytime fast during Ramadan
The bikers don their club's signature vest when they ride off to deliver food so Muslims recipients can break their daytime fast during Ramadan - Copyright AFP LOUAI BESHARA
The bikers don their club's signature vest when they ride off to deliver food so Muslims recipients can break their daytime fast during Ramadan - Copyright AFP LOUAI BESHARA
Maher Al Mounes

Every evening during Ramadan, members of a motorbike club zip down the streets of Damascus to deliver meals to those in need during the Muslim holy month.

“We hit the most disadvantaged areas,” said Tarek Obaid, head of Hope Bikers Syria, whose 50 volunteers make and distribute the food for various charities in the Syrian capital.

The bikers  — some sporting beards or wearing large silver rings on their fingers — head out as sunset approaches, racing to hand over the food so Muslims recipients can break their daytime fast.

The volunteers don their club’s signature blue vest, the front and back embroidered with their emblem: a flaming motorbike and the Syrian flag.

They help out for “humanitarian or moral” reasons, said Obaid, a swimming coach in his fifties who supervises the Ramadan rounds.

But the act of charity also lessens the stigma around bikes and their “Born to be Wild” image.

“Before, people avoided the motorbikes when they saw them, but now they are happy to see our blue (vests) or hear the noise of our bikes,” Obaid told AFP.

The group says it has no political affiliation and crosses faith boundaries, with Christian and Muslim members.

The Muslims among them break their fast after the rounds are done.

– ‘They love us’ –

“People have gotten to know us, they smile at us, they love us,” said Obaid, directing the riders on sport, dirt and classic motorbikes.

Syria has been ravaged by 13 years of war that has killed more than half a million people and battered the country’s economy and infrastructure.

Around 90 percent of the population is in poverty, according to the United Nations.

The motorbike club began its volunteer work during the Covid-19 pandemic, transporting oxygen bottles for those in urgent needed.

As the pandemic subsided, the bikers turned their attention elsewhere, including helping victims of an earthquake in February last year that ravaged parts of Syria, killing about 6,000 people there.

They have also been part of organising, with non-government organisations, recreational activities for orphaned children.

Earlier in the day, the volunteers gathered at a charity kitchen in Damascus to prepare vegetables, meat and rice, then packaged the meals for distribution.

They put on their silver, black or bright yellow helmets, ready to ride into the sunset: this time to a home for the elderly on the outskirts of Damascus.

The bikers move nimbly through busy areas, evading heavy traffic to deliver the meals swiftly.

They cover the cost of fuel themselves, a great help in a country blighted by petrol shortages that drive up prices, particularly after subsidies were lifted last year.

“Even though the motorbikes use less petrol, we struggle to get fuel” due to shortages and high costs, said George Hafteh, 37, a photographer and one of the bikers.

Motorcycles have also earned a bad reputation over the years of Syria’s economic crisis because thieves often use them to snatch bags or phones from people on the street.

But Hafteh said the group was trying to return biking to “its place in society, taking on our responsibility towards the people”.

When they arrive at the centre for the elderly, he and his fellow bikers take the meals up to the rooms, distributing them to people in beds.

Fellow club member Amer Totanji, 31, who works at a private-sector company, says he takes pleasure in what he can do on motorbikes.

They are “more than just a mode of transport” and have become “a means of helping people in need”, he added.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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