Martina is an Australian mum of one. She lives a healthy, happy life, surrounded by a loving family, good friends and supportive colleagues.
Most days, she looks at the news and despairs. Syria is in the throes of a war, and the world is witnessing a refugee crisis that seems so far away, so tragic and so hard to solve.
“I could see a time in the near future when the empathy bar would be so low it would become ‘normal’ to not feel anything [when hearing stories about refugees],” Martina told Mamamia. “I felt angry, ashamed, sick to my stomach, frustrated and helpless.”
One day, Martina saw a link on Facebook. It was a piece by international aid agency Act for Peace and it was all about The Ration Challenge. The Ration Challenge is a growing community of Australians coming together to stand up for refugees. Martina saw it as her opportunity to do something meaningful to help.
This year, even more Australians will sign up to take the Ration Challenge during Refugee Week, between June 17 and June 24.
That means one week eating the exact same rations that a Syrian refugee living in a camp in Jordan receives – just a small amount of rice, flour, lentils, chickpeas, beans, fish and oil – to help raise money and awareness for those who have left their families, their homes and their lives behind in the pursuit of a safer life.
“I thought it was a fantastic way to raise awareness among my community and made me feel as though I could make a small yet meaningful contribution,” she said, taking on the challenge. “[It] was hard to do, but…seriously? To put things into perspective a little: I have a safe, warm bed, support from my friends, family and work colleagues and a job. My family and I are healthy and safe.
“I could choose to continue the challenge or stop at any stage, unlike the relentless fear and suffering our Syrian brothers and sisters go through on a daily basis.”
The challenge itself works to raise both money and awareness to provide urgently needed food, medicine and counselling for refugees. While the challenge is only the smallest glimpse into the many struggles faced by refugees, Martina said the experience itself was powerful; an act of solidarity that also helps to provide refugees with urgently needed support.
“It made me feel in absolute awe of the people living (existing?) in war-torn countries: their resilience, determination, bravery and resourcefulness. I was equally blown away by my sponsors’ generosity and compassion: when they feel they can do something to help, they will.”
It was also a great opportunity for Martina to teach her son Liam a lesson about the world he lives in.
“I was so proud of my 12-year-old son and his desire to do whatever he could to support me,” Martina said. “The challenge put my normal, daily frustrations and stresses into sharp perspective and made me realise how incredibly lucky I am to have the life I have. It made me realise I’m capable of a lot more, and a lot stronger than I think I am, and that one person has the power to influence a number of people.”
One of those people is a woman named Assala. On the other side of the world, Assala lives in a tent with her husband Ahed and their son Naser, who is 13 years old.
Assala and her family are originally from Hama in Syria, where they owned a chicken farm and sold olive oil. There, they lived a happy life, until they couldn't anymore.
Assala has lived in Jordan for the last six years. During this time, she has not seen her mother or her sisters, who are all still in Syria. There is no escape from the bombings, no way from them to leave.
For Assala, escaping the pervasive and suffocating violence in Syria has meant her son can go to school again. She has received food rations, so her family doesn’t have to worry about not having food to eat. She was given a women’s package, containing things like soap and sanitary products, to help her get by.
"I feel so happy that there are good people who help me, because this relieves my responsibility as they help me with things I can’t buy," Assala said.
However, a funding shortage means not every refugee living in one of the many urban refugee camps on the outskirts of Jordan, away from family and far from the home they grew up in, has access to a pack that eases their daily struggles.
While so many of us, just like Martina, hear the stories of people like Assala and despair, it can be hard to know how to be part of tangible change beyond sharing articles and signing online petitions.
The Ration Challenge is a practical, meaningful way to be part of the change so many of us are desperate to see in the world. Participants receive a food pack with the exact same food rations as a Syrian refugee living in a camp in Jordan. By taking part in the Ration Challenge, everyday Australians can show refugees, just like Assala, that we're with them, not against them.
Join The Ration Challenge today, by clicking here. You’ll be making a real difference and joining over 25,000 Australians who’ve taken the Challenge in the last four years. Could you eat like a Syrian refugee for a week? Have you done the challenge before? Tell us your experience below.
Eat the same rations as a Syrian refugee during Refugee Week, get sponsored and show refugees we’re with them, not against them.
We’ll send you the exact same food rations as a refugee receives in a refugee camp. The money you raise will provide rations, medicine and education to help give refugees the strength they need to cope.