Along with thousands of other people across Australia, I will be taking part in the Act For Peace Ration challenge during Refugee Week (18-24 June).
What does that mean?
For one week, I’ll be consuming daily rations that closely reflect those of a Syrian refugee in Jordan. Which, when you see the pack, is not much at all. To give you an idea, the box containing most of the supplies is no bigger than two loaves of bread placed side by side.
How much food are we talking?
The ration pack includes 420 g of rice, 400 g plain flour, 400 g tinned kidney beans, 170 g dried lentils, 85 g dried chickpeas, 125 g tinned sardines (which are not a personal favourite of mine…) and 300 ml of vegetable oil. While I expect I'll be eating some very plain food, I will also be searching for resourceful ways to maximise these ingredients – I’m excited that hummus is possible!
I’ve created a fundraising page to coincide with my challenge and through the generosity of friends and family, I have also earned some extra rations along the way as my fundraising has hit certain milestones. In addition to the above, I’ve got access to 50 g sugar, 170 g of a vegetable of my choosing (most likely, potato), 120 g of protein (think 2 large eggs) and a spice of my choosing (anyone that knows me knows it will be salt). The challenge also means rules I'll be having no red meat, no coffee and no alcohol. I’ve already begun preparing myself this week by slowly minimising my daily food intake as well as cutting out the elusive evening snacks in the hopes that this will help reduce my cravings throughout next week.
My week to come...
It wasn’t until I received my pack that I understood the gravity of what a weekly intake looked like: a.k.a not much at all. But while these rations seem minimal (and they most certainly are), it's made me realise they’re also sustenance and nourishment for someone who doesn’t have the same ready access to food that I do.
Why am I taking part?
I didn’t hesitate at the thought of signing up when I heard about this. I mean, I often talk about wanting to understand the world outside of what I have come to know and this was an opportunity to walk the talk.
This hits close to home for me. My family were refugees of the Bosnian war; several of my cousins were under the age of five during the war as they spent several years malnourished. Whilst some of my family stayed and endured a time of extreme hardship, which meant minimal access to clean water and a regular food source, some of my family fled the war and settled in neighbouring European countries like Sweden and Switzerland in the hopes of building a better life for themselves and their children (my cousins). I want to acknowledge (even if just for a week) what eating this ration pack has meant, could mean, does mean for people. This is what real people consume and by signing up, this meant I was making a choice to try to understand their situation.
While my mum was intrigued by the challenge, one thing she said really resonated with me. “Farah, just remember: you are choosing to do this challenge and many refugees would never choose this.” This sentiment rang really true and while I want to self-reflect and create awareness, I also have to be humbled by the fact that I can choose to do this. And calling on friends, family and co-workers to sponsor me meant I would remain accountable and strive to stay clear of the Bosnian pies, bakes and stews that the other three people I live with will be eating for next week.
A little perspective
At a time when people are directly affected by conflict around the world, where millions of people are being forced to flee their homes and take refuge, this is an important time to think about what eating set rations means. According to the latest figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are 65.3 million people forcibly displaced worldwide, 21.3 million of those are considered refugees and 10 million people are considered stateless. Of those 21.3 million refugees, over half of them are under the age of 18 years of age. Over half of the 21.3 million come from three countries: Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria. I was so surprised to learn these hard facts, both about the 65 million who are displaced and how badly Syria has been affected - so much so that Syrian refugees accounts for 23 per cent of the total refugee count.
Just as I am sharing my reasons, thoughts and drive behind taking on this challenge, many others are doing the same as Act For Peace fosters a social community on their Facebook page for people to share and communicate prior, during and after they’ve completed their challenge – and outside of Refugee Week, too.
One of many stories...
Fatima fled to Jordan with her children in 2012. Now she and her children live in Jordan and are some of the many 'urban refugees' supported by funds raised by The Ration Challenge. With the funds raised by the challenge, Fatima has now been trained as a volunteer to assist with food distribution and she also supports women and girls through the Refugee Community Centre.
This is how the challenge directly links back to those who need it most.
Act for Peace is a member of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), and they work closely with people all over the world to tackle big changes and issues based around communities threatened by conflict and natural disaster. All money raised will go towards rations, education, healthcare, farming, hygiene, water sanitation and psychological support services intended to reach vulnerable communities around the world. These are the things that we may sometimes take for granted here in Australia (I know I have). To give you an example, A$288 can provide an entire year’s worth of food rations to one refugee.
If taking on this challenge provokes conversation and thought, then eating these rations for a week is a small part I can play in something that is more meaningful than my morning barista-made coffee. Work will face my uncaffeinated-self, my family will get used to my eating habits (I hope), I will have to learn how to play it smart with my rations (by not consuming them all in a 24-48 hour block) and also look at being resourceful with these ingredients (suggestions and recipes are most welcome!). This will be a true test of my self-control, as well as my willingness to make this a meaningful experience; in the back of my mind will be the rights, as human beings, that we should have on this planet. The basic human rights that are inherent to all human beings, "whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic colour, origin, religion, or language" as The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states. We are all equally entitled to these rights without discrimination.
I’ve been sharing my fundraising page and will continue doing so and if you would like to ask me any questions about the week or see how I manage my rationing, stay tuned on my Instagram account where I will be sharing thoughts, videos and rations @uberfah.
Refugee week is an annual week-long celebration of the positive contributions of refugees to Australian society. Stay tuned for all the key events in 2017 right here. If you want to find out more about Act For Peace, the Ration Challenge, its impacts, or sign up yourself then follow this link.