World Food Day 2020: When food is more than a meal

Raju,12, can cook with her mum at the Community Kitchen in their refugee camp in Bangladesh

This World Food Day, discover the innovative kitchens at the heart of a whole community.

Food brings people together. No matter where you were born, you probably have a favourite childhood meal, scents and flavours that bring back memories and nostalgia. Unfortunately, many vulnerable children and families living in dangerous places don’t always have access to nutritious food.

12-year-old Raju (pictured above) lives in one of the largest Rohingya refugee camps in the world. Families here receive food support, thankfully. World Vision, in partnership with the World Food Programme and USAID-EFSP is helping these families to feed their children. Through the Fresh Food Voucher programme and other support, they can buy nutritious staple foods, including dried fish, potato, pumpkin, onions, and spinach.

But then they have to find a way to cook it. Raju used to spend hours collecting firewood with her younger sisters, Hafsa, eight, and Shahida, five:

“With two of my sisters, I used to go collecting firewood for cooking meals for my family. Sometimes, we would get injured falling down the hill.”

Without firewood, the family can’t cook and there won’t be any meals to eat. But collecting firewood alone puts children, like Raju, at risk of injury and abuse, and stops them from taking part in classes and activities.

On top of this, the sudden growth in demand for firewood is causing a growing environmental crisis. According to a recent report, the Rohingya refugees consume 2,200 metric tons of firewood every day for cooking fuel. They remove 700 metric tons of wood – the equivalent of around four football fields of trees – daily from local forests.

Rohingya women walk together through the refugee camp

Community kitchens

“I have been living in the camp for three years," says Fatema Begum (pictured below), a 30-year-old housewife and mother of five children.

"When the big conflict started in Myanmar, I crossed the border with my husband and children. It took us three days to arrive in Bangladesh. At the beginning we suffered a lot to get firewood. Though there used to be forests, it had been cut in a few days. Moreover, local people didn’t allow us to collect firewood from nearby.”

To address this problem, World Vision constructed 55 community kitchens in six camps. Up to 1,100 families can cook in these kitchens daily.

“Seeing our suffering, World Vision managed to establish this Community Cooking and Learning Centre (CCLC). Finally, our struggle ended, and we could cook our food easily,” continues Fatema, who prepares meals for her family at her nearest centre and became a lead mother in her community during the COVID-19 period.

Fatema, wears a protective face mask as she meets with her fellow Rohingya mothers

More than a meal

“At the beginning the CCLC was established only to cook. But later we had awareness sessions here and learned many things. This time we have learned about coronavirus and informed people about it. If there are any other problems in our community in future we can solve them from this community kitchen. So, we hope deep in our hearts that this kitchen will last as long as we stay here,” says Fatema.

2,750 Rohingya women have joined 55 Community Cooking and Learning Centres across six camps where they can safely gather, cook meals for their families and pick up tips on a variety of topics including hygiene, nutrition, preventing gender-based violence, child protection, and disaster risk reduction.

Some of the members have now volunteered as ‘lead mothers’, attending extra training and then sharing knowledge with their neighbours.

In future, if there are any other problems within our community, we can solve them from this community kitchen.

- Fatema, Rohingya Lead Mother

Rohingya women share information and tips, as well as cooking nutritious meals at the community kitchen

Lead mothers

During the coronavirus pandemic, Fatema decided to become a lead mother in her community.

“Lead mothers take responsibility for passing knowledge onto other women after they’ve been trained by World Vision staff. We have learned how to prevent coronavirus and protect ourselves in this situation. We have learned to wash our hands more frequently. We should wash our hands with soap before cooking, eating, and after using the toilet. We have learned to maintain three feet social distance and wear a mask to prevent coronavirus. We should cover our mouths with our elbows while sneezing. And we should wash our hands with soap frequently,” says Fatema.

During lockdown, NGOs couldn’t enter the camps. So instead, lead mothers worked tirelessly to give 103 awareness sessions on COVID-19 prevention, 66 classes on better hygiene and 107 cyclone preparedness sessions.

These community kitchens have truly become the heart of their communities – providing a safe gathering place, a way for families to eat well, and protecting children like Raju:

Since having this community kitchen, my mother and I can cook here and now we can have time to attend learning centre.

- Raju, 12, Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh

For children like Raju, access to good food is #MoreThanAMeal.

Every 10 seconds a person gets cash or vouchers through World Vision, this helps vulnerable families pay for necessities like food, rent or medicine.

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