A charity effort that fosters sociality and service to all walks of life.

In the Gulf, Ramadan can be a lot of fun.

Food takes center stage here – supermarkets boast countless goodies, restaurants offer enticing buffet deals and the air-conditioned hotel tents give people a perfectly comfortable venue to lounge, eat and smoke the night away.

But Ramadan, traditionally considered a month of austerity and self-discipline, also carries a deeper significance, one of gratitude and charity. It is a message that some organizations in Qatar are working hard to remind people about.

Once such group is the Stormy Foundation, which 26-year-old British expat Asif Mahmood launched unofficially in 2008 as a way to foster a community for those far from home.

Its emphasis is service, and this Ramadan SF will put that mission to the test, visiting orphans, holding a clothing drive that will end in a drop-off to the Palestinian territories, coordinating with restaurants to reduce food waste and issuing food bags to workers containing essential items like rice, oil, dates and lentils.

“All we're doing is trying to give expats an outlet where they can do something, rather than sit at home, read a book, or watch TV – something to benefit the community,” Mahmood, a production engineer, said. “We’re also helping ourselves by meeting like-minded individuals.”

Getting started wasn’t easy, said Mahmood, whose initial volunteer efforts when he moved to Doha in 2006 were rebuffed by several charitable organizations.

“At first I was met with a hard no,” he said. “I was kind of deflated a little.” But by organizing a group of volunteers – and utilizing a bit of wasta from his Qatari friends – things began to turn around.

SF has a mailing list of over 200 people, and its Facebook page now has nearly 250 fans, which Mahmood aims to increase to an ambitious 3,000 by the end of Ramadan.

Its mix of sociality and service has been a big hit, particularly among western Muslim expats, who gathered recently to produce Ramadan bags for laborers.

The sacks of food were paid for by QR 100 donations, which SF is soliciting with the following tagline: “Remember, these are the people who gave us the beautiful Doha skyline. Please help up give them back a fraction of what they have given us.”

Rabia Zaman, who helped design the bags, moved to Doha for a social media internship in April. She said the Stormy Foundation has been an integral part of her successful adjustment to life in Doha.

“It has really helped in making friends,” the 26-year-old British expat said. “I can’t imagine what it would have been like not having this. It’s been really good to have that group of people to support me.”

In addition to service projects, SF has a football team, holds weekly squash events, and monthly desert and dhow trips during the cooler months. Mahmood said plans are in the works to expand into Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where there is high demand among expats for “halal” and “productive” community events.

For more information on the Stormy Foundation, visit www.facebook.com/pages/Stormy-Foundation

– Shabina S. Khatri is an American journalist freelancing in Doha, Qatar. While in the Gulf, she has reported on Doha’s struggle to transform from a tiny desert peninsula that imports everything (including people – expats comprise 80% of the population) into the region’s premier cultural, political and economic hub. You can follow her on Twitter @dohanews and www.shabina.net

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