Why I tried the Ration Challenge

Jessica Maggio

Australia, like many of its sibling First World countries, has long provided refuge for those who have been forced to flee their homes as a result of the turmoil from war, persecution and natural disaster.

But for many, the words ‘refugee’, ‘asylum seeker’ or ‘immigrant’ invoke negative connotations.

They have become nuances of hostility in which a refugee simply becomes a number. Something which is very unhelpful to their plight, particularly considering the UN had declared that the world is facing its “largest humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War”.

Ration packs are sent to participants, resembling the food received by Syrian refugees. Source: Supplied

UN humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien, said that more than 20 million people in four developing countries are facing starvation and famine - something that hasn’t been seen since the mid 20th century.

That's why I decided to try and help raise awarness - and funds - by trying the Ration Challenge, where you eat the same amount of food many Syrian refugees are given when they arrive at camps in Jordan.

It all started with a parcel of rations sourced from the same ingredients that are in refugee camp food packs - so mostly rice, chickpeas and beans.

Foods in ration packs are increased with fundraising incentives. Source: Supplied
Food rewards including sugar, tea and protein are incentives to fundraise. Source: Supplied

With little nutrition and small daily portions, I was pre-warned of the effects of such an immediate diet change. For me, the drowsiness, lack of energy, and mental instability were the most concerning.

RELATED: My experience on the Ration Challenge

In an effort to raise awareness and much needed funding, world refugee councils are calling on people, now more than ever, to cast out stereotypes and put a face - and more importantly, a name - to the ‘refugee’ tag.

Names like Leyla; a mother forced to flee her home in Syria when air strikes and bombings threatened her family’s survival.

Leyla and her family fled Syria to a Jordan refugee camp. Source: Act for Peace

Having just given birth, Leyla, her husband and their five children fled to a refugee camp in Jordan, completely separated from their extended family, and most of the family’s possessions.

“There was bombing next to our home, very close to our house. My youngest girl was only two days old,” Leyla said.

“I was breastfeeding her but when the bombing started I was so afraid and shocked that my milk stopped producing. It was at that moment I knew we had to leave, for my children.”

Leyla's daughter, Sara, was just one week old when her family fled Syria. Source: Act for Peace

Fleeing Syria, Leyla and her family travelled by car and foot, often spending entire nights walking to escape enemy eyes.

“The whole time I was holding my one week old baby,” Leyla said. Like the tens of thousands of people before them, survival was not a guarantee.

Yet the physically treacherous journey, only made harder by the fear of being caught, is almost a luxury compared to the oppression they left behind.

For many of the families that have fled Syria, refuge no longer becomes a choice, but rather an inevitability.

A mother of five, Leyla only wants what's best for her children. Source: Act for Peace

Of the 20 million plus people currently seeking refuge, over six million of them are from Syria. Syria’s civil war alone has left half its pre-war population – more than 11 million people – dead or forced to flee.

Without collective and coordinated global efforts, Mr O’Brien warned that close to one million children under the age of five living in Developing countries, including Syria, would be ‘”acutely malnourished” by the end of 2017.

For those who are successful at seeking refuge, they are often met with infestation, disease and a severe lack of medical aid in their new camps.

Leyla and her daughter Sara in their home in a Jordan refugee camp. Source: Act for Peace

Trying to change one small thing about our lives and just trying to eat like a refugee for one week helped me to understand one part of their plight and showed a little compassion can go a long way.

The Ration Challenge is organised by Act for Peace, if you’d like to donate to refugees affected by conflict and disaster, or find out more, you can head to the Act for Peace website.