Many Uniting Church members have gained some understanding of what it is like to survive on a refugee’s diet by spending a week on a ration pack the same as that received by an adult Syrian living in a refugee camp in Jordan.
Conducted by Act for Peace during Refugee Week (19-25 June), sponsored participants pledged to eat only what was in the ration pack – 1920g of rice, 400g of flour, 170g lentils, 85g dried chick peas, 125g tinned sardines, 400g kidney beans and 300ml vegetable oil.
There were no fresh vegetables or fruit, no meat and none of the snack foods many people consume without thinking, such as chips, biscuits and chocolate bars.
Three Tasmanians who participated in the challenge were presbytery minister Anthea Maynard and Ian and Diane Farquhar, from the Launceston North congregation.
The three raised about $1800 between them and were proud to support a campaign which delivers more than $2 million to help feed refugees. But they all agreed developing a keener understanding of the plight of refugees by ‘walking in their shoes’ was the real life lesson of the experience.
Mr Farquhar said while he did not feel overly hungry during the week he was struck by the blandness of the meals which could be put together from the ration pack. One of the biggest temptations was passing his persimmon and mandarin trees which were loaded with fruit. The challenge reminded him that being able to pick fresh fruit and vegetables from his own garden is something he takes for granted.
“The food is actually quite boring. The patty cake ritual looks a bit monotonous but I can say for sure it is much better than rice alone,” he recorded in a diary of his week.
Anthea Maynard said the week had brought into focus the fact her family had become, over time, less committed to living simply.
She said the diet left her feeling filled but never satisfied.
“It was a constant feeling of dissatisfaction and it made me realise how important just a cup of green vegetables are,” she said.
Ms Maynard said the week had made her recommit to advocating for ration packs to be made even more readily available to all refugees.
Ration Challenge co-founder Karen McGrath said the comments were consistent with the feedback being received.
“Most people found the challenge tough. Stepping into the shoes of a refugee for a week made them feel extremely the grateful for the privileges we enjoy here in Australia,” Ms McGrath said.
“Living on rations for a week was an eye-opening experience that increased understanding, compassion and respect for refugees.
“One of the biggest motivators for people doing the challenge was the opportunity to raise awareness for refugee issues and to help promote empathy.”
The money raised by the challenge will provide humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees living in Jordan. This includes delivering food rations to families who are going hungry, providing counselling services for people traumatised by the war and giving Syrian refugee children the chance of an education and a safe environment to learn and play through children forums.
It also raises funds for Act for Peace’s other refugee programs which support refugees who have fled conflict or natural disaster in Ethiopia, India and Thailand.
To continue to be involved, people can donate to the Ration Challenge through the website www.actforpeace.org.au/rationchallenge or pre-register to take part in 2017. They can also follow the Act for Peace Facebook page to stay up to date with further campaigns.