A Moving Feast: Buy a food truck for refugees in Lebanon
In a refugee camp in Beirut, a remarkable woman has created a catering business that’s offering dignified employment and new hope to a group of Palestinian refugee women. Please help us at Alfanar - the Arab region's first venture philanthropy organisation - to buy these amazing women a food truck, so they can sell their mouth-watering food to even more people, and grow their business even further.
Update 10.30am GMT 9 December: A generous supporter has now agreed to match all pledges received until we reach our goal. That means every pound pledged from now will go twice as far!
Living as a refugee in Lebanon
For many of us, the life of a refugee appears impossible. After leaving behind everything that's familiar to them, they are torn away from the sights, sounds and tastes of home, taking only what they can carry.
This is the reality for 1.5 million Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis and others who have found their way to Lebanon, a tiny country with only 4 million inhabitants located at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea.
They wait, hoping that the conflicts raging in their homelands will one day end, and they can go back home. In the meantime, daily survival is the goal.
'Soufra’ - serving up a feast in Burj el Barajneh
But in the permanent Palestinian refugee camp of Burj el Barajneh, the leader of a women’s organization – the soft-spoken, but incredibly fierce and focused Mariam Shaar – has other ideas.
She doesn’t just want her community to survive: she wants it to thrive.
Mariam runs the Women's Program Association (WPA) in Burj el Burajneh, 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 us at Alfanar for funds to set up a catering unit. She could see the opportunities to market delicious Palestinian food, build women's skills and confidence, and help WPA start to generate its own income.
We decided to take a risk on Mariam. As well as providing start-up funding to help cover the costs of the catering unit – now called ‘Soufra’, which means 'feast' in Arabic – we’ve provided Mariam and her team with business support and advice to set the business on the path to growth.
We are so glad we did. Surpassing Mariam’s – and our – wildest dreams, with our help, Soufra recovered most of its costs in its first year.
Today, Soufra isn’t just bringing refugee women an income – it is giving them a voice. Mariam describes 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 a Ramadan iftar at the Spanish embassy.
Mariam's vision is close to becoming reality.
So why do we need your help?
During Alfanar's business planning work with Mariam, it became clear to us that while the business was growing, demand for catering is seasonal. That means lumpy revenue for Soufra - and erratic income for the women.
So we started brainstorming new ways of generating steady orders. As ideas were being thrown about, we remembered the US movie The Chef, and realised that if Mariam could buy a Soufra food truck, the women wouldn’t have to just sit and wait for the phone to ring – they could take their food to straight where their customers are.
Staring us in the face was the solution: right outside Burj el Barajneh is a major hospital, which has high footfall…we worked out that this could be a great potential market to serve on a daily basis.
Our idea was a bit a controversial at first – 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!
But the Soufra team were soon convinced, and now love the idea of serving affordable, delicious lunches to people coming in and out of the hospital, with the chance to build Soufra’s profile even further.
What we need to buy the food truck
Please help us raise the $48,640 we need to:
- Buy a food truck for Soufra
- Equip it with necessary equipment to safely serve food
- Cover its initial running costs for a year, including gasoline and maintenance
Once the food truck is up and running, we forecast that the revenues from food sales will:
- Cover the costs of running the truck
- Provide steady income to the women cooking and selling the food
- Generate additional review to support WPA's desperately needed education and empowerment activities
This is not a charity case...
Please help us to help these amazing women as they chop, slice, dice, sauté, fry, bake, and garnish their way to a better future for themselves and their families.
This is not a charity case, these are business women. They need more business, and they need your help.
So please contribute to our kickstarter campaign and find out just what the Soufra women are capable of!
Alfanar is the Arab region’s first venture philanthropy organisation. With offices in London, Cairo and Beirut, we provide strategic grants and management support to social enterprises in the region so they can stand on their own two feet and improve their ability to transform people’s lives, long into the future. Our venture philanthropy approach ensures that all our charitable donations are directed towards sustainable, strategic social investments.
Soufra catering is a social venture launched by the WPA community centre in Burj el Barajneh. This was envisioned by the WPA team and launched with seed funding and business planning support from Alfanar. This has enabled Soufra to partner with Lebanon's leading social enterprise Souk El Tayeb, which runs a weekly farmer market and restaurant, Tawlet. Soufra has also partnered with the American University of Beirut’s Faculty of Health Sciences Follow Soufra on Twitter and Instagram
If you have any questions about our campaign, please get in touch and we will get back to you right away. To learn more about our work, visit www.alfanar.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Other ways you can help
- If you are not able to donate, please spread the word. Share this link inviting friends to join our campaign. Let friends know how important it is to support #AMovingFeast
- Use the Kickstarter share tools and send this out to everyone you know, via Facebook, Twitter, and email.
- Don't forget to use the hashtag #AMovingFeast. Let's go viral!
Risks and challenges
Every new venture has its risks and challenges, and the only way we can navigate them is to be prepared. We have done this by conducting a thorough business plan and feasibility study, to make sure each step and its potential outcomes are well thought out. Key risks include:
Safety and hygiene of the food: Lebanon is a country with food safety concerns on the public’s mind. To address this risk we source all our ingredients from trusted, vetted local sources; store them using international best practices; and process and prepare our ingredients using food safety checklists.
Social and cultural challenges: Social barriers due to economic, political, and religious divisions are common in every country, and Lebanon is especially sensitive. Women from a Palestinian refugee camp selling food outside of the camp present an unusual phenomenon. To mitigate this challenge we plan to start with pre-arranged visits to institutions and office buildings that are supportive of our initiative, serving their employees on a pre-set schedule. This will help sensitize people and spread the word gradually, allowing us to expand our scope to new sites and clientele over time.
Security considerations: In a region and a setting where political conflict happens every day around us, we are acutely aware of the importance of being cautious in our daily decisions. WPA is a politically neutral, respected and trusted community-based organization with a track record and a highly developed network in civil society. Mariam and her team assess the security situation before every activity, whether sending children to a recreational program, or in this case sending women to venture out with this new food truck. When there are any security threats, decisions are made with the safety and welfare of women and their families as the top priority.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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