I am five days through a seven day Refugee Ration Challenge set by Act for Peace and it's been a valuable experience.
The challenge is set to raise awareness about this aspect of the plight of refugees, and to give those of us who are living privileged lives (yes, that's all of us reading this) a chance to stop and consider how difficult the situations are that thousands of other humans are facing.
The hope of the founders of this challenge was that with a even small understanding of the experiences refugees go through in relation to hunger, that maybe people would be more open to helping practically. Through sponsorship each participant raises funds that are used to provide ration packs to as many refugees as possible. This year's funds go towards ration packs given to Syrian Refugees.
Once signing up for the challenge you are sent a ration pack that imitates the rations that are given to refugees. Included in the pack are:
- 400g Kidney Beans
- 1920g Rice
- 400g Flour
- 170g Lentils
- 85g Dried Chick Peas
- 125g Tinned Sardines
- 300ml Vegetable Oil
The challenge is to make that amount of food last over 7 days – which is 21 meals. I don't know about you, but that is a lot less than I would normally have to prepare my meals.
Through the process of fundraising you are able to earn rewards... a spice/flavouring, 70g of protein, 170g vegetables, 8 tea bags, 50g sugar or one luxury item. All of these happen at different amounts raised. They might not sound like much but they sure make a huge difference to the meals! I was fortunate enough to be able to add tuna, salt, mushrooms and tea bags to my ration pack and it's sure made my week more do-able.
Act for Peace doesn't leave you without support in this challenge though. Included in your pack a 'toolkit' which includes ideas for basic, common recipes and ideas on fundraising as well as personal stories from some of the refugees that you will be supporting.
Coming into this week I was picturing being pretty hungry, feeling quite low and majorly lacking energy. However I've found it to be surprisingly easy. I say 'easy' because I haven't felt hunger or lack of energy to the extreme that I was expecting. In thinking about it there are several reasons for this:
1. I have an entire ration pack to myself which is a luxury that most refugees don't have. Because of a lack of supplies often families will share a ration pack between them. Other times refugees will go completely without because there just simply isn't enough for everyone to receive food.
2. As far as energy goes – I am still living in a warm house, with a comfortable bed and getting enough sleep to keep me going. Physically not much of my situation has changed. Refugees are sleeping in makeshift shelters, without furniture and any comforts of home which doesn't lend itself to good rest for the next day.
3. I have peace of mind about my safety and know that I don't need to stress about my future. I know that my family and loved ones are all safe and that at any point in time I could contact then despite living in different places. Mentally I am able to rest which means that despite not getting the nutrition and amount of food that I normally do, I'm not burning any energy on stress.
4. I know that for me it's going to end. Unlike the majority of refugees who have absolutely no idea of how soon they are going to be able to escape this life – I have a time limit and can stubbornly last out the week because I know that there is certainty that I am going to go back to eating 'normally' in just a few short days. All that it costs me is a very little bit of patience and self discipline.
On a much lighter note, a few of my other observations from throughout the week:
- Fried Rice is preferable for me over boiled. I found that it had more texture and a tiny bit more flavour.
- My absolute favourite meal of the week was fried flat bread. It's laughable that I enjoyed it so much, but in comparison to rice three times each day, the flour and water mix was delicious. Flavoured with a little bit of salt it hit the spot.
- I saved my extras to have on my last few days to keep me with something to look forward to, and I would do that again. It was worth having plain rice for consecutive meals in order to be able to mix it up at the end of the challenge.
As far as fundraising goes, I've had a great group of people sponsoring me – currently I have raised $626 which is amazing. I originally set my goal as $500, doubting that I could even raise that much but we surpassed that before I even started the challenge. That's almost enough to provide rations for three refugees for an entire year!
One of my favourite things about this week has been that it's been a natural conversation-starter on the topic of refugees. Occasionally people would offer me food and I would have to turn it down and then got to give an explanation for the reason why. This lead to most people saying 'wow, I had no idea' or 'I've never really thought about it'.
The fact that this week alone I've had opportunity to speak to more people about refugees than at most other times makes it worth it, as well as the fact that I've grown in my compassion and empathy a little more.
It's been a very valuable and eye-opening week for me personally and I'm excited to already have a couple of others on board to create a team for next year's challenge!