The annual “ration challenge” is happening this week, and this year the organisers say that over 4,400 people in the UK have signed up to live off a box of food typical of what is given to Syrian refugees living in camps in Jordan each week.
The boxes contain just 170g of lentils, 420g rice, 85g of dried chickpeas, a 400g tin of kidney beans, a can of sardines, and 330ml of vegetable oil to use for seven days worth of meals.
There’s the option of coupons to buy a little bit of extra flour or rice too, similar to the vouchers aid agencies might give out. Plus, if you hit certain fundraising targets, a reward of one £3 voucher (to spend on one item) or five tea bags is given.
The NGO Concern Worldwide organises the challenge, and says that this year, despite COVID-19, the initiative has already raised £1.6 million, the charity told Global Citizen — surpassing last year’s total of £1 million.
The funds raised will help pay for emergency food, hygiene kits, and other support for refugees in Jordan.
Aftab Gujral, 62, who is taking part in 2020’s ration challenge, told Global Citizen he has so far experienced tiredness and brain fog from a few days on the very restricted diet, but says he was more prepared for it this year than last.
“I normally drink coffee and so I had really bad caffeine withdrawal symptoms in the first two days, really bad headaches,” he said. “It’s not the most nutritious diet at all, it fills you up with carbs but there isn’t much in the way of minerals and vitamins, no vegetables,” he added.
Recipe blogs and social media pages have sprung up from participants sharing tips on doing the challenge, as people look for creative ways to cook the limited amount of food. Flatbreads, plain dhal, plain rice, and sardine fish cakes are frequent go-tos.
While Gujral said he is finding it easier than some people he has spoken to this week — others report feeling very fatigued and unwell, he said — it hasn’t been all plain sailing. As someone with type 2 diabetes he needs to be aware of his blood sugar levels.
“Yesterday I started to feel shaky, and trembling, I had not eaten enough before going out,” he said. Having raised enough sponsorship for his one extra voucher, he could afford one bottle of orange juice.
Feeling lucky that this was even an option, he added that he and other participants have been reminded of their real life privileges constantly throughout the week.
Made it to day 5 of the #rationchallenge and just 2 more days to go! Please sponsor me at: https://www.rationchallenge.org.uk/eleanor-powell Here are some photos of what I've been eating whilst living on refugee food rations this week. Despite the glossy instagram photo, it has honestly been a pretty difficult and humbling experience so far. I have experienced headaches, fatigue and lack of concentration from hunger. But this is incomparable to the experience that refugees face. I can sleep in a comfortable bed knowing that in just a few days I can return to a normal diet, but for the huge number of refugees living in refugee camps, this is not the case. Please donate (no matter how big or small, every little helps!) to help refugees recieve the vital support that is needed. The money raised will go toConcern worldwide which is a charity that helps to provide support, emergency food rations, and hygiene kits to refugees. Thanks for reading and for the kind donations so far!
“We’re not in their [a refugee’s] situation, we’re not in camps, we’ve not lost homes, but we do get a tiny glimpse through the food, into their experiences.”
As the organisers at Concern Worldwide highlight, almost 80 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes because of conflict or disaster, and are either internally displaced or living abroad in refugee camps.
Meanwhile global food insecurity — defined by the United Nations as not having physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food – looks set to increase.
The UN’s World Food Programme estimates the number of people facing life-threatening food insecurity will double in 2020, to 265 million people, due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Peter Anderson, Concern Worldwide’s Northern Ireland director, said that ration challenge — while it would it would never truly replicate the lives of refugees, or people facing food crises — helps connect people to these issues.
“[To do] this, they’ve got to have an affinity with the cause… Although we would never claim that taking part in the challenge is anything like a refugee’s experience, it does give a small insight into one of the challenges refugees face,” he told the i newspaper.
Now that the challenge is in its last couple of days, Gujral and his fellow participants are on the homestretch, and are trying to maximise sponsorship.
“I have raised £958 and I want to get up to £1,000, that would be nice,” says Gujral, adding that if he reaches £1,570 that would feed 10 refugees in a Jordan camp. “I started with a target of £200 but people have been really generous this year.”
Fundraising for this year’s ration challenge will stay open until Dec. 31, find out more here.