June 17th – 23rd is Refugee Week – “the UK’s largest festival celebrating the contribution of refugees and promoting understanding of why people seek sanctuary”. And it’s a great cause. Here in the UK, there’s a great deal of negative sentiment around refugees: a perception that they’re all people who have made their way here illegally just to leech off UK money.
But that’s not the case.
This year, to raise money for and awareness of the plight of Syrian refugees, charity Concern Worldwide (UK) has encouraged members of the public to take part in the Ration Challenge. For an entire week, those taking part (including me) will eat the same as a Syrian refugee living in a camp in Jordan, giving a glimpse into just a small part of the struggle that these people face.
Because as unappealing as the week’s rations are, I don’t have to deal with the mental trauma of being uprooted and potentially seeing people killed around me. I know where my family are, and I know that they’re alive. I know that I’ve got a roof over my head – and, unlike refugees living in camps across Jordan, I have somewhere to call home.
The ration pack I’ll be living on for seven days contains the same rations, in the same quantities, that the Ration Challenge team distributes to Syrian refugees throughout its programme in Jordan. Basically, that’s:
- 420g rice
- 170g dried lentils
- 85g dried chickpeas
- 120g tinned sardines
- 400g tinned kidney beans
- 330ml vegetable oil
I’m also allowed to buy another 1.5kg of rice and 400g of plain flour, having been sent “coupons” that are representative of coupons many refugees are given by the UN and other organisations, that can be exchanged in local shops for these staples. And by hitting certain sponsorship targets, I can add certain “rewards” – much like when refugees manage to trade or work to source more food for their families. With the rewards I’ve earned so far, I’ve added salt, my choice of spice (paprika) and 170g of spinach to be split throughout the week.
And, to be honest, I’m lucky I can live on all this. Sometimes Concern Worldwide only have the funding to provide 100 packs in a camp that needs thousands, meaning packs get shared, and many go without.
That’s why this challenge is so important. These people aren’t opportunistic, money-grabbing people. They’re men, women and children fleeing violence and conflict in Syria, and they have nothing.
At the time of writing, I was up to £250 in sponsorship, which will go a long way. Just £306, for example, will provide emergency food rations for two Syrian refugees (the same as the contents of my ration pack) for an entire year, while £375 can provide ten infant hygiene parcels (including soap, nappies and toothbrushes), helping to keep families healthy. The Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan alone houses nearly 80,000 refugees – which shows how much work there is to be done.
I’ll be blogging each day of my Ration Challenge – not just what I’m eating, but also how it’s making me feel, and a bit more info about where the money will be going. And I’d be so incredibly grateful for any sponsorship that people are able to provide – even a pound will make a big difference. If you want to sponsor or learn more about the challenge, you can visit my fundraising page here.
What would you make with the ingredients that I have in my ration pack?
Wish me luck…
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