This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my Disclosure Policy for details.
June 20 is World Refugee Day. The day honors, respects and brings awareness to refugees around the world. The United Nations designated the day in 2001 to celebrate the strength, courage and resiliency of people forced to flee their homes due to conflicts and persecution.
It’s also a time to deepen compassion and empathy for those who are displaced and to recognize their efforts to rebuild their lives.
Read on for more information about the current plight of refugees worldwide. And to learn what I did to help this year.
Facts About Refugees
A person forced to leave his or her country due to war, persecution, disasters or violence is a refugee. Every minute, 20 people flee their homelands.
By the end of 2020, 82.4 million refugees remained displaced worldwide. More than half of the refugees are children. The number of people seeking asylum is high. Just last year, another 1.1 million people submitted requests for asylum.
Currently more than 6 million refugees live in camps. Although not meant to be permanent, some refugees live in camps for years. Basic needs are met there, such as food, water, shelter, medical care and emergency services.
Turkey hosts the most refugees, with 3.6 million living there currently. Columbia shelters 1.8 million who have fled from Venezuela.
Over two thirds of all refugees come from five countries: Syria with 6.6 million, Venezuela with 3.7 million, Afghanistan with 2.7 million, South Sudan with 2.3 million and Myanmar with 1 million.
This year’s theme for World Refugee Day is inclusion. Together, we can achieve anything.
What I Did to Help This Year
I discovered a way to help refugees this year. I participated in a challenge sponsored by Church World Service (CWS). CWS is a faith based organization that transforms communities around the world through just and sustainable responses to hunger, poverty, displacement and disaster.
The Ration Challenge began Sunday June 13 and concluded Saturday June 19.
There are three parts to the challenge.
I set up a fundraising page through CWS and began to share my goals and intentions via social media. Sponsoring myself with an initial donation ensured I received my ration package in the mail.
I set a goal of raising $679. Those funds feed three refugees in camps for a year.
It was important for me to express to others why I wanted to do a ration challenge.
My reasons include:
- raising awareness of refugees, their struggles and also their resilience
- learning what it’s like to be in their situation by experiencing it on a small scale. I wanted the eye opening experience. And I wanted to shift my perspective, enlarge it and then respond.
- being an example. I felt confident asking for donations because I was willing to donate also and to share in the experience of eating rations for a week.
- putting actions with my words is important to me. Walking the talk, stepping up, making a difference were all motivating factors.
By sponsoring myself with an initial donation of $100 before May 27, I received a ration box identical to what adult Syrian refugees receive. The box contained one week of rations: a can of kidney beans, 6 ounces of lentils, 15 ounces of white rice, 3 ounces of dried chickpeas and four coupons. The coupons replicate what a refugee receives. They are traded for food.
My coupons allowed me to add to my rations: 7 1/3 cups of additional rice (I chose brown rice), 3 cups of flour (I used gluten free flour), 12 ounces of oil (I used my Almeria Gold olive oil) and because I am vegan, I received a coupon for 3.75 ounces of tofu, rather than the standard can of sardines. I don’t eat tofu either so I substituted another protein, 3.75 ounces of red beans.
On Sunday morning, June 13, I began the challenge by eating only the ration food and drinking only water. Included in my box of rations was a booklet containing recipes created by refugees. The book proved so helpful. And it contains personal stories of refugees. Check out my experience doing the challenge, below.
The money raised through the Ration Challenge helps in two ways.
First, by providing emergency assistance to meet people’s most urgent needs. Life is already difficult for refugees. Now, due to the COVID pandemic, refugees are experiencing lockdowns, job losses (for those very few who are earning a small income) and disruptions to aid. Hunger is rampant.
The money funds programs that provide food rations, health care and other essential support to people who need it the most.
And secondly, money raised helps address the root cause of injustice.
We must have empathy and compassion for others. In a world where there is enough for everyone, why do some go to bed hungry at night? Empathizing with others and feeling compassion for their situations are the foundations for “charity begins at home”.
When enough people feel strongly about caring for others, then we not only help out individually (giving, reducing carbon footprint, buying ethically from sustainable companies), we ask our governments for action as well (increasing international aid budgets and supporting international aid commitments).
By experiencing the Ration Challenge, I put myself in another’s shoes for a week, increasing my compassion and empathy. By sharing my experience, I hopefully increase others’ compassion and empathy as well.
My first reaction, when I opened the tiny box of rations, was sorrow. Tears filled my eyes. It looks like a small amount of food because it IS a small amount of food. The sorrow wasn’t for myself. I felt it for the refugees.
After swapping out my coupons for the additional food, I created a meal plan.
I ate three small meals a day…breakfast, lunch and supper. No snacks, except on Day Three when I experienced gnawing hunger between lunch and supper. I used some of my brown rice and a couple of spoonfuls of flour to create rice cakes that I fried in a small amount of olive oil. Eating two rice cakes satisfied my hunger and I saved the rest for future meals.
Every morning I ate congee, a rice dish made from 1/2 cup of rice and four cups of water. Boiling the rice for 45 minutes to an hour creates a large bowl of soft…some might say mushy…rice. It is very filling and I actually like it.
This meal typically consisted of a cup of rice and half a cup of beans or lentils. I measured everything. Even so, by the end of day two I wondered if my food would run out before the week did.
I increased my food slightly in the evenings. One night I made a soup from one cup of mixed legumes, using the cooking water as broth, and added half a cup of rice. However, most evenings I ate a cup of rice with half a cup of beans or lentils and added a small flatbread or rice cake on the side.
During Ration Challenge Week, it’s possible to earn rewards.
Refugees are resourceful and hardworking. Most are not allowed to have jobs, due to countries protecting local job markets. However, they find other ways to provide for their families. Funds from the challenge support livelihood programs in Jordan that help provide a small income for refugees.
The rewards allow participants to earn more food due to their hard work during fundraising.
Making a donation yourself earns an unlimited amount of one spice.
Inviting others to contribute, whether they do or not, earns teabags. Five people invited to donate equals one teabag.
$75 – unlimited salt
$200 – a cup of milk.
$400 – 6 ounces of one vegetable
$600 – 4 ounces of an additional protein.
$800 – canned tomatoes
$1,000 – one hot or cold beverage of choice
I went a bit beyond my goal of $679, earning rewards of cumin, salt, a cup of almond milk, 6 ounces of kale and I added 4 more ounces of red beans as my additional protein. Plus I earned tea for the week.
Was the week challenging? Yes, although I really only experienced hunger on Day Three. After that day, my hunger subsided and my small meals sustained me.
However, by Day Five I felt tired. My energy levels were low because my calorie intake was extremely low. I had a slight headache. I took one of my grandsons out for his birthday dinner…and only drank water. It was a valuable teaching moment though as Joey and I discussed what life is like for refugees.
From Day One I expressed gratitude, thankfulness for the food I ate, thankfulness for the goodness of people who care for others. And daily, almost hourly, my thoughts turned again and again to refugees and what they experience.
By Day Seven, I admit I was glad to finish the challenge. Although I like brown rice, after eating rice three times a day for a week, I grew tired of it. But that brought my attention back to the refugees. My challenge week was ending. Their days and weeks go on…and on…and on…often for years. As a result, I’ll eat a meal of rice and beans at least once a week, to remain mindful.
How Others Can Help
I truly am grateful for the experience of the Ration Challenge. And I’m so incredibly thankful for those who contributed to this fundraiser and who left me encouraging notes.
Here are ways you can help:
- look for refugee owned businesses in your cities and support them
- watch a documentary on refugees, listen to podcasts, read books…all to learn more about the way they live and the lives they’ve left behind
- speak up for government policies that support the rights of refugees
- be mindful of the food you eat by not wasting any of it, by shopping sustainably and by sharing with others when you can
- become a sustaining partner with CWS and make helping refugees a part of your monthly budget. Even a small amount each month helps such as the cost of a cup of coffee each week or one lunch or dinner out. Sign up here. Or you can make a one time donation on that site as well.
And…join me next year in the Ration Challenge. I want to create a team. Location and distance don’t matter, we connect via the internet and social media. Team up with me so that together, we can do more to help others. If you are interested, let me know in the comments below or send me a message. I’ll contact you next year…I promise!
Cindy Goes Beyond is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. This affiliate program provides a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com, all at no extra cost to you.