At 9 o’clock the supermarket is relatively empty, but by 10 it is a world of chaos and excitement.
The shoppers are refugees—Syrians who have fled a brutal armed conflict in their country—and the setting is Lebanon in the dead of winter.
They are living a miserable life, says Fadia Dahshe of Oxfam partner PARD (Popular Aid for Relief and Development). Many arrived with no money and no spare clothes. They have constructed fragile shelters of sticks and plastic sheeting—no real protection from the bitter cold. “Sometimes they light fires in their tents,” she says, “but it’s dangerous for them.”
For those who are living through this disaster, there may be only one place they’d less rather be right now: home. They tell stories of narrow escapes and of losing everything they had—houses, money, and sometimes loved ones—and of what it’s like to try and live and sleep and care for young children in freezing temperatures.
But as one mother said, “I can tell you that being cold is better than being in the middle of the war.”
On this day in January, 72 families are getting a respite—a trip to the supermarket, and a chance to buy food and blankets and hygiene supplies.
PARD has been providing supplies to 200 families. They used to distribute the goods, but by paying attention to the experience of the refugees, they realized there was a better way to do the job.
“We made a focus group with the families, and they told us things like ‘Sometimes you gave us too many lentils; maybe you could give us more milk instead.’ And, ‘We don’t need a gallon of shampoo—we need more rice,’” says Dahshe. “So we listened to them and decided it is better for them to choose what they would like to buy.” She adds, “It is their right to choose.”
So, PARD is now providing families with vouchers, each worth $73.
"As you go around the shop, you will see that each family has different items in their basket," says Dahshe. They simply take what they need."
“It’s important that we got this support. It will make a big difference,” says Fadia Asaf, a mother of two, who is now eight and a half months pregnant. “Hopefully, the conflict will be resolved soon and we can go back to our country.”
“I want to tell people not just in Syria but also in the whole world that they should stop fighting,” says Dahshe. “People must put an end to this misery.”