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Last week, Concern newbie Hannah took the Ration Challenge for the first time. She shares some insider insights, top tips and hard truths…
Eat rations. Raise money. Save lives. Since I began working as Senior Communications Officer for Concern in January, I’ve seen these words on my screen countless times as my team and I prepared for the launch of the Ration Challenge. Simple as the concept is, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to actually do it – so I signed up. Here are my thoughts from the other side.
1. Know your limits in the kitchen
Unless you’re a keen kidney bean who’s tried out recipes ahead of Challenge week, now is not the time to pretend you’re auditioning for MasterChef. My dreams of making falafel were scuppered when a friend told me it had taken her four tries to get them right – and I wasn’t prepared to lose one gram of food if I could help it. Instead I used the chickpeas to make hummus, as I’d made it before and was confident it would come out vaguely edible.
2. Forming a team is a must
I cannot stress this enough! I made a team with my boyfriend Robbie and it’s hard to imagine what the week would have looked like without having at least one other person to share spices, recipe ideas, treats and hangry feelings with. As supportive as your friends and family may be, they won’t fully ‘get’ what you’re going through – so having an ally and sous chef can make the world of difference.
3. It’s worth getting Facebook just to join the Ration Challenge group
The Ration Challengers are like no group of fundraisers I’ve ever seen! From recipe tips to tales of kitchen mishaps and motivational words, the Ration Challenge community are a truly lovely bunch who are always quick to show support. Whether you’re a lone ranger searching for a team, or an ambitious chef looking for the perfect flatbread recipe, make sure the group is your first stop.
4. Set some time aside to learn more about refugees’ experiences
In harder moments, amidst the hunger pangs and rice-fatigue, it can be easy to forget why you’re doing this. During Challenge week we watched a couple of documentaries about the experiences of Syrian refugees, including For Sama and Escape from Syria: Rania’s Odyssey. They were difficult watches but really put things in perspective and motivated us to keep going - and keep reaching out for those precious donations.
5. Choose your rewards carefully
News flash: 170g of veg is NOT a lot; one medium-sized onion, to be precise. We thought really carefully about what spices, veg and protein rewards would work with the ingredients from the ration box. Criteria included: how much bang for our buck; ability to add flavour/texture; and likelihood of lasting the week. In the end we settled on one onion and some tinned tomatoes.
6. Share your experience with friends and family to help raise awareness
Social media is such a useful tool to get the word out about the Ration Challenge, up your donations and get people engaging with an issue they might usually overlook. We were truly stumped when deciding which two spices to choose, but a quick vote from friends on an Instagram post helped us choose. And on our penultimate day, a rant about rice on Facebook resulted in about £250 worth of donations!
7. Day 5 is a rough day, so be prepared
Although I have zero experience of running marathons (or running, for that matter), I’d liken Day 5 to the dreaded Mile 18. Essentially, you hit a wall. If you’re lucky enough to hit the fundraising target for a treat or a drink, it could be a good idea to save these rewards until Day 5 to cure those hangry blues.
8. Do not waste thy holy teabag
Tea became a real pick-me-up, particularly on work days during that mid-afternoon slump. But with a maximum of 10 teabags, I had to get creative. My method? Boil up hot water, stick your tea bag in, swirl it around for a minute to get that strong colour, then spoon that teabag out and get it in another mug ASAP to save for later. As a Yorkshire lass, I can confirm that you should get two strong, perfectly brewed teas from this hack – maybe even three.
9. The end of the week may feel bittersweet
We did it! We stuck to the rations, raised a lot of money and felt proud, quite rightfully. But there was also a nagging feeling that although this was the end for us, it’s not for millions of refugees. Many of them have been living on this diet – a diet that none of us would ever choose - for years, all while living in cramped conditions, dreams and ambitions on hold, having left an entire life behind. I hope this nagging feeling stays with me as a constant reminder that we can, and should, do more to help refugee communities. It’s uncomfortable, but to be comfortable would to be complicit.
The Ration Challenge definitely lit a fire in me: it gave me a unique insight into a small part of life for refugees and the motivation to do more.
If you want to show refugees that you stand with them and are looking to make a real difference, take the Ration Challenge. And if you’re a terrible cook, don’t worry – rice is pretty hard to mess up!