Foodgrains voucher program allows refugees to buy food

Syrian refugees in Lebanon are hungry but suffer in silence, almost invisible in a land of plenty.

That’s a problem the Canadian Foodgrains Bank is tackling with money raised from individual Canadians and the federal government. 

“There are a lot of people getting missed,” said executive director Jim Cornelius. “That’s where we’re doing a lot of our work.”

The Syrian civil war has forced two million people to flee the country and displaced four to five million people inside its borders.

Most of the foodgrains bank’s efforts are aimed at refugees in Lebanon because they are particularly vulnerable. 

While refugees in Jordan are able to live in camps where United Nations staff and programs can reach them with aid, refugees in Lebanon are not allowed to form camps. Instead, they are scattered through the general population, some living on the edge of fields and others with more money renting simple lodgings or hotel rooms.

“There’s often nothing left over after rent for food,” said Cornelius.

The foodgrains bank is helping these refugees by giving them vouchers they can use in local stores to buy food. 

“There’s plenty of food in Lebanon. It’s a question of do you have the money to buy it,” said Cornelius.

Lebanon is synonymous in many Canadians’ minds with chaos and war, but Cornelius said it is comparatively well-functioning, especially its marketplaces.

“If there’s anywhere the market’s functioning, it’s Lebanon, even during the (wars). This is a country of traders. They’ve been trading for 3,000 years,” said Cornelius.

“This is their livelihood: trading and making things go.”

So the problem for Syrian refugees in Lebanon is poverty as opposed to a lack of available food; hence the voucher program.

Until recently, the foodgrains bank was not allowed to give hungry people cash instead of physical food. 

However, the federal government gave it the power a few years ago to choose how to best help the needy. 

As well, an international agreement has supported the creation of innovative aid programs such as vouchers.

Cornelius said this flexibility is allowing his organization to more efficiently use the resources it receives from Canadians and the government.


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