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Social restaurant lets customers buy anonymous meals for hungry strangers

By Camille Dupire - Sep 30,2017 - Last updated at Sep 30,2017

A girl is seen pinning a meal invitation voucher on the board at the entrance of the Ezwitti restaurant near downtown Amman (Photo courtesy of Ezwitti)

AMMAN — After he visited a coffee shop in Italy where customers could buy “pending coffees” for strangers who couldn’t afford it, Mahmoud Nabulsi decided to appply the formula to his own restaurant in Amman.

In 2015, he founded “Ezwitti”, based on the idea that people’s generosity can be expressed in “a million little ways”.

At this small restaurant near downtown Amman, these small acts of kindness are visible through hundreds of small “meal invitation” coupons pinned on a board at the entrance of the shop.

“Ezwitti is a social solidarity restaurant where buying your meal provides one for someone in need,” Nabulsi explained, noting that he came up with the idea after he saw a hungry homeless man while walking  downtown two years ago.

“I insist on having small donations by local individuals and not by companies or big global donors which could ‘hijack’ the idea. I want to keep this initiative local, without having to abide by an agenda,” Nabulsi told The Jordan Times over the phone.

Since the cost of a sandwich only covers the running costs of the restaurant, we do not make any profit out of the meal, he noted, saying that him and his team are “trying to end hunger in Amman and in other parts of Jordan as well”.

“It is our duty to care for people who need to eat and can not afford it,” the young man continued, noting that “some people try to secure their daily income, and it’s a struggle by itself.”

“I want to provoke people who have money, the restaurant owners, the government officials, to show them that this issue is right in front of their eyes and we all need to do something about it,” the social activist explained.

Refusing to qualify the restaurant under a “charity”, Nabulsi says that Ezwitti strives to provide food handouts in a “culturally sensitive way”.

“We use the concept of invitation by asking people who come in if they want to ‘have a meal or invite someone for a meal’. This decent way of giving makes it easier for the person who receives the food,” the founder explained, stressing that it is a great way to remind underprivileged people that they matter to others. 

The restaurant is committed to providing fresh, healthy and tasty food by using locally produced ingredients. “For some people, Ezwitti is the only meal they eat all day, and they are not often exposed to healthy choices. So we are obliged to give them the best that we can offer,” he insisted. 

“It also helps support women suppliers in rural areas,” he explained, citing a woman from Hosa in Irbid Governorate, who supplies them with cheese every week.

Standing next to the board of meal vouchers, Nabulsi explained that the team of 17 volunteers distributes over 100 free meals per week, all because of the daily generosity of regulars and passersby.

But it is not only the generosity of customers that “amazes” him, it is also the kindness of the volunteers working there. 

“One of our volunteers, Mokhled, is a Palestinian undocumented refugee in Jordan, who is facing a lot of struggles. He feels like he has to do something for the community,” the social activist noted, adding: “I feel proud that he now describes Ezwitti as ‘his second home’.”

Citing the huge wealth disparities in Amman, the young man stressed the need to raise awareness about the issue of hunger.

“We need to have an influence over people, make them realise they have to do something to end poverty wherever they are,” he stated.

Despite its status as an upper middle-income country — ranking 80 out of 188 in the Human Development Index — Jordan maintains pockets of food insecurity, according to the World Food Programme.

For Nabulsi, this dawning reality is the reason Ezwitti needs to continue giving away more meals every day and to expand this idea to more restaurants and shops across Jordan.

 

Ultimately, the social restaurant aims to create a system of social solidarity and economic support where people can help each other on a daily basis.

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