Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a refugee? To live without necessities, and be given the bare minimum? This year, my mum, Sarah Hill, sister, Emily, and I participated in the Ration Challenge in a weak attempt to understand the extent of this hardship. The challenge is primarily a fundraiser operating through the non-governmental organisation, Act For Peace, which provides participants with the same food refugees are given to eat for a week. Our job was to successfully ration the food - comprising rice, salt, lentils, vegetable oil, beans, a can of sardines and flour - for five days. Approaching this challenge, I was slightly ignorant and doubted the difficulty of this challenge; I’d been on diets before, how much harder could this be?
I was in for a rude awakening.
I woke up on the first day keen to begin. However, my eager attitude soon disappeared after having "crepes" for breakfast (fried flour and water), rice and beans for lunch, crepes as an afternoon snack, and rice and beans for dinner. It’s fair to say I was sick of rice and beans by the first night. Despite my insistent belief that I don’t have a coffee addiction, I was sorely mistaken as I was tired all day and asleep by 9.00pm.
On Day 2 I told myself that I was fine, but after yelling at my sister over rice congee, I was most certainly not. Following this, I was an emotional wreck. I cried in Homegroup and the two following lessons over rice and refused to eat my lunch (you guessed it - also rice). Additionally, my motivational will was rapidly decreasing and I couldn’t shake my short temper – lashing out a couple of times. I was fuming and exhausted by the end of the day, unable to believe refugees had to face this monotony of choices and lack of sufficient calories every day.
That afternoon, Act For Peace sent us a video of real refugees holding up signs with the days they had been rationing their food to increase our motivation, and it certainly did. Most people held signs stating over a 1,000 days and one child I clearly remember had a sign saying ‘Forever’. This was the moment I pulled myself together.
By Day 3, I cleaned up my emotional state and, despite my exhaustion, persisted through the day, being very careful not to complain. At home, I was greeted with the incredible news that as a family we had raised $1,000 and were therefore eligible to a few benefits including a source of protein. Ecstatic, I chose an egg and was so excited that I left it for half an hour before eating it just to endure the delicious smell. I think that was the best egg I’ve had in my life so far. On Day 4, we added the lentils and sardines to our diet, which was incredible. Normally, you couldn’t pay me to eat a sardine but I was so hungry that the smell of fish made my mouth water and I loved them. Oddly, after the Challenge, I once again despised the taste!
With some incredibly generous support from our family and friends, by the afternoon of Day 4 we had raised $1,500 and were allowed to have a treat up to $5, which, after very careful and exciting research, I spent on a 2L tub of cookies and cream ice cream and vowed to only eat the ice-cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner on the final day. No more rice for me.
By the end of that day, more than anything I felt empathy for the refugees and felt more motivated than ever to help them in any way possible. It is astonishing how much these people have endured, through circumstances out of their control. As a whole, their stories are not headlines every day and their resilience and determination to continue to feed, educate and innovate to ensure their families' survival is awe-inspiring.
Even though I barely experienced a small share of what refugees are forced to deal with, this challenge opened my eyes to the difficulties real people endure. In summary, it was a tough but wonderful experience that I would recommend to everyone as we could all benefit from a little more empathy and gratitude.
2020 Year 11 and 2021 SRC Captain