By Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon
Miriam Shaar, a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon, witnessed the discouragement in her community first hand. Living in Bourj el Barajneh, a refugee camp of more than fifty thousand Palestinian refugees outside of Beirut, Shaar knew the harsh realities of not having the financial means to provide for the basic necessities of life. The more than two million refugees in Lebanon experience significant challenges in their daily life. Refugees, particularly women, cannot find work. They often feel like they do not have hope for a future.
The Women’s Program Association (WPA) provides women in the camp an opportunity for job training, education, vocational skills, and microloans. Shaar joined the WPA and, imagining a way forward, asked the women in her community, “What can we do to improve our situation?” The women decided to do something with cooking. “All our food is delicious!” said one of the women about the entrepreneurial ideas.
For any of us who have traveled in Lebanon and other parts of the Arab world, we have a personal appreciation of the delicacies of Palestinian, Syria, Lebanese, Jordanian, Egyptian, and other types of Arabic food. The women in Bourj el Barajneh, under the leadership of Shaar, decided to start their own catering company. They quickly realized catering would not provide the kind of audience they would need to really make money. So they launched a Kickstarter campaign called “A Moving Feast: A Food Truck for Refugees in Lebanon,” and their business was born.
Over the course of their endeavors, these women experienced many setbacks and challenges. It is difficult for refugees in Lebanon to get the appropriate paperwork for registration, driving, permits for business, and other important aspects of civil society. The regulations and laws governing the refugee population in Lebanon makes it difficult, if not impossible, for refugees to assimilate into society, to work and make enough money to support their families, and to have hope for a prosperous future. Nonetheless, for these women, their efforts made them feel “more accomplished” and helped them value their self-worth. Mariam learned how to drive a car well after she was an adult, just one of the challenges she had to overcome.
This story is told in the film Soufra, the name of the catering company. The story is inspiring and reminds us of how creative courage can make a difference even in the harshest of circumstances. Miriam certainly had reason to give up home. She could have easily quit and not persevered. Mariam modeled what persistent hope looks like and is an example for all of us. She said, “We are becoming a symbol of hope to others. Women can do anything. Especially in these times, women can do anything.” These women give us hope.
Lately, a sort of mantra – a breath prayer – I’ve been saying to myself is “despair is the luxury of the privileged.” When refugee women in Lebanon haven’t given up hope for the future – who are we, who have so much, to despair? This Lenten Season, may their work inspire us and compel us to continue our efforts of advocacy for the sake of others. Their work gives us hope. As Shaar reminds us: “One has to have the courage to try new things… We hope for a better future.”
If you are interested in purchasing a Soufra cookbook, you can learn more information here.
This week, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) will be traveling all around the United States on our Pilgrimage to Peace (P2P) tour. One of the speakers is Suzann Mollner, the executive director of Beirut and Beyond that focuses on work with Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Please keep Suzann and the P2P tour in your prayers.
Join us in prayer for refugees in Lebanon, in the Middle East, and around the world. You can write your prayers in the comment section below.
A Prayer for Refugees from Catholic Relief Services (CRS)
God of our Wandering Ancestors,
Long have we known
That your heart is with the refugee:
That you were born into time
In a family of refugees
Fleeing violence in their homeland,
Who then gathered up their hungry child
And fled into alien country.
Their cry, your cry, resounds through the ages:
“Will you let me in?”
Give us hearts that break open
When our brothers and sisters turn to us with that same cry.
Then surely all these things will follow:
Ears will no longer turn deaf to their voices.
Eyes will see a moment for grace instead of a threat.
Tongues will not be silenced but will instead advocate.
And hands will reach out—
working for peace in their homeland, working for justice in the lands where they seek safe haven.
Lord, protect all refugees in their travels.
May they find a friend in me
And so make me worthy
Of the refuge I have found in you.