In a little forgotten area in Beirut, amongst a small forgotten community, reside a group of incredibly brave and strong independent women. They have taken the decision that they will no longer be a victim and stand by watching their life go by. Today they fight for what they want, and most of all fight for the women they want to become.
In the permanent Palestinian refugee camp of Burj el Barajneh, a remarkable woman has created a catering business that’s offering dignified employment and new hope to a group of Palestinian refugee women. The soft-spoken, but incredibly fierce and focused Mariam Shaar, runs the Women’s Program Association (WPA) there, which provides education, vocational skills training and micro-loans to women, most of whom, unlike today’s new wave of refugees, were born in the camp. In 2013, Mariam asked Alfanar for funds to set up a catering unit called ‘Soufra’ (feast in Arabic). Seeing the opportunities to market delicious Palestinian food, build women’s skills and confidence, and help WPA start to generate its own income, she marched ahead with her plan.
Mariam doesn’t just want her community to survive. She wants it to thrive. Her dream is to open a child Center in one of the harshest areas in the camp. Alfanar have provided Mariam and her team with business support and advice to set the business on the path to growth. Surpassing her wildest dreams, Soufra recovered most of its costs in its first year. Today, Soufra isn’t just bringing refugee women an income; it’s giving them a voice. The pride and joy the women in her kitchen experience when they head out of the camp on Saturdays to sell their products at Beirut’s famous green market Souk el Tayyeb, or to cater for different events, is indescribable.
Inspired by the US movie The Chef, Alfanar team realized that if Mariam could buy a Soufra food truck, the women wouldn’t have to just sit and wait for customers, they could take their food straight to where their customers are. Their idea was a bit controversial at first as the camp is a pretty conservative society, and women rarely leave it on their own, let alone to cook and sell food out of a truck. Yet the women are going ahead with the plan and gathering funds for it.
Mariam is trying to keep these women out of the predicament they’re in. They didn’t choose to sink and they refuse to drown. Remembering the past, they dream of home and survival ignites their every breath, a force that dwells within. Despite their situation, the fight for life will always win. It lights a fire inside of them, giving hope in the darkest of days. Everybody dreams. Faith is a gift that keeps on giving beyond what the heart can comprehend. Fighting to survive in a world where survival is impossible. Those women are well deserved of honor given to the most ingenious of start-ups. Their strength is mighty uncommon, motivating future generations asunder. Today they fight not only for them but for every other girl and women who lives there.
These amazing women chop, slice, dice, sauté, fry, bake, and garnish their way to a better future for themselves and their families. With their food they reach to people, telling them their story of a land lost, of a forgotten people, of strength and determination, of dreams and what they’re made of. Because hope is the catalyst of those who aspire, may their hopes turn into reality, and their reality turns into a story of an incredible group of women that sprinkled hope in their community.