If you want to see a bunch of adults fall in love with the five-second rule, put them on the same rations as a Syrian refugee in a Jordanian camp.
I participated in the Church World Service Ration Challenge again this year. (I participated previously in 2019. I have intentionally not reread my wrapup from that year because I want this year’s observations to be fresh, but here it is.) I’m also still accepting donations.
As I mentioned, the Ration Challenge involves eating the same rations as a Syrian refugee at a camp in Jordan.
We each got:
12 oz. oil
3 cups flour
6 oz. lentils
3 oz. dried chickpeas
4 lb. 4 oz. rice
3.75 oz tofu
A 15.5 oz can of kidney beans
To see all of these items “in real life,” here’s my unboxing video:
(Thank you to Neil Parekh for helping me make this video.)
Because I reached my fundraising goals, I was also able to add:
A spice of my choice
4 oz. protein (I chose shrimp)
8 oz. milk
6 oz. of a vegetable (I chose baby carrots)
A 14.5 oz. can of tomatoes
A 12 oz. hot or cold drink (I chose chocolate milk)
7 tea bags
Here are this year’s takeaways:
The need among refugees is dire.
More than 80 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes because of conflict or disaster.
Specific to Syria, this is what the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says:
-Conflict in Syria reached its 10th year in 2020.
-There are 13.5 million displaced Syrians, representing more than half of Syria’s total population.
-6.7 million Syrian refugees are hosted in 128 countries.
-80% of all Syrian refugees are located in neighboring countries, with Turkey hosting more than half (3.6 million).
Additionally, the World Food Programme reports that there are approximately 650,000 Syrians living in Jordan (“more than the entire population of Memphis, Tenn.”). Many of them live in towns and cities (rather than camps) — this brings with it the challenge of needing humanitarian help because so few have work permits.
Eating these rations for a week can’t give us any more than a tiny, minute glimpse into what these refugees experience, but it increases our sense of solidarity in profound ways.
Here are my biggest takeaways:
If you love a cause, it’s OK to ask people for money
Asking people for money doesn’t come all that naturally to me and it isn’t a comfortable thing, but that’s a small tradeoff to potentially help our fellow human beings. My friend, Mary Jane Conlon Reilly, is a fundraising superstar (and a multiple myeloma survivor) for a cause she and I both care deeply about (the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society). We were walking along a street in New York City in 2015, on our way to the New York City Half Marathon we were both participating in to raise money for LLS, when she said, “Yes, I ask big companies for big amounts of money. The worst they can do is say ‘no.'” I remember that every time. A friend or relative can just keep scrolling if they don’t want to donate after seeing an inquiry from me in their in-box. If I don’t ask, I won’t know.
Also, in decades of fundraising for various causes, I’ve seen it be true time and again that email is among the most effective fundraising techniques. According to QGiv, email “the highest return on investment of any marketing channel.”
You should ask questions
Many of my bosses, especially over the last few years after I left my original career, have said, “You need to ask more questions.” (I’m pretty sure my current boss wouldn’t say that — perhaps quite the opposite — but that has a lot to do with him making himself accessible and consistently holding 1:1 meetings.) There were two times during this challenge where this was driven home to me.
I made an assumption in 2019 that I carried over into 2021. We could earn a tea bag for every five emails we sent (a pretty wise incentive since emailing is such an effective way to raise money!). In 2019, I got plain tea bags containing black tea, thinking we should be as spartan as possible.
I never added coffee or Diet Coke back into my diet after the 2021 challenge, so this year I bought plain tea bags containing decaffeinated black tea, still thinking we should be as basic as possible.
In our awesome Ration Challenge Facebook group, a question came up one day about flavored teas. “Yes, you can have flavored teas,” answered our coordinator. WHAT. A. GAME. CHANGER!
Doing something a second time doesn’t mean it will be the same experience
I felt different going into the 2021 challenge than I did embarking on the 2019 event. I had put 2019 in a special little compartment in my mind. I remembered how relatively yucky I felt on Day 5, how I couldn’t stomach the sardines I received for protein no matter how hungry I was (that’s why I switched to tofu for this year) and how great it felt weighing in at Weight Watchers at the end of the week, having lost a few pounds. (This year I lost 4.2 pounds in a week.)
One big game changer this time was the discovery of mujadara, a dish based on lentils and rice. Once I whipped up a batch of mujadara, I ate off of it for quite a few meals. The flavor was so good! There was nothing in my 2019 experience that was such a taste sensation, and I was glad I took a chance on it.
We should challenge ourselves/reset
This pandemic has not been kind to my eating habits or my weight. I’m not “blaming” the pandemic, just saying the choices I ended up making and habits I fell into were not in my best interests. I have gotten in the habit of eating mindlessly as I work just to make the time go by a little faster. I needed to prove that I could do my work without that crutch. I needed to give my body a break. It’s not what the challenge is primarily about, but I do think “depriving” myself (such as it was) was as much an emotional/spiritual cleanse as a nutritional shift.
Other things I’m glad I did/had/learned
I’m glad I joined a team this year. I did it a few days into the challenge (another thing I didn’t realize I could do because I never asked). That’s how I got cumin in addition to the garlic I had chosen as my spice. Teams can contain up to six people because that’s the average size of a Syrian family in a camp. Ration challenge teams can share the spices other team members have earned and can also “share” their rations and rewards. My team is Liam’s Love. Learn more about Liam, a young man who has a big heart and big altruistic dreams, here.
I’m so appreciative that Wayne (my husband) took a more active role this year. I also realized how different our lives were in 2019 (duh). We were empty nesters, but I can’t remember us ever sitting down together and eating that week. We definitely didn’t sit outside on our patio at the end of the work day. I have gotten used to an adult beverage during our (catio (cat + patio)) times throughout the pandemic, but it was all water all the time during my challenge week. It’s possible I realized the togetherness was the bigger treat, not the drink.
I cooked my rice in a regular pot twice and the Instapot once. Instapot rice doesn’t turn out as plump (and therefore take up as much room) as rice cooked in a regular pot. That matters when you’re trying to stretch everything out!
We are all so human. I actually thought, as I was considering joining a team, “but what if someone wants to split the 12 oz. drink I earned with me?” I’m not proud, but it was a reminder of how we can hew to the side of survival rather than generosity all too easily.
As with the previous year, it was easy to lose sight of our shared purpose when we interacted in our Facebook group. It’s an incredible group of several hundred people. We all supported each other, but watching everyone navigate that week was a reminder that we should all give ourselves grace. There were questions about technicalities we were fretting over (does using an extra tablespoon of flour by accident mean you have to drop out?), musings about the advisability of foraging for wildflowers (don’t do it) and suggestions that we sleep outdoors or on the floor to more closely approximate the refugee experience. We all had to gently remind each other to keep our eyes on the prize of helping refugees, rather than literally counting beans.
Thanks to so many generous donors, I raised $1,503 to help refugees get food, health care and other types of practical support. Our team raised $3,525.46.
Every dollar counts. For example, $17 pays for medical care for a refugee. That’s about what it would cost two of us to eat at a fast food restaurant — a meal we would likely forget soon after eating it. If you’d like to give, please visit this link.
Church World Service provides participants with individual coaches, and I’m here to say they do their jobs well. I always felt supported and encouraged, even when I emailed questions I could have easily found the answers to in the thorough materials we had been given.
My coach, Mary Catherine, shared this thought as our week ended: “The Ration Challenge may be over today for most of you, but the challenge of building a world where there is enough for all is ongoing. We’ve got this, if we remember that we are all in this together.”
Thank you to so many of you who were “in this together” with me. I appreciate all of the donations and also the consistent, universal moral support.
I wrote this post partially in response to the Kat Bouska prompt “Tell us about something you have been working on.”
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. My pronouns are she/her/hers.