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CHURCH WORLD SERVICE: Food Boxes For Refugees in Cairo During Pandemic

CWS/Church World Service

Food Boxes Help Refugees in Cairo Put Meals on the Table During the Pandemic
Trigger warning: The stories below include content that will be hard to read, including sexual violence.

Aisha is a single mother of a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old. An Eritrean refugee, she came to Cairo to find safety and work so that she could support her children. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Like many refugee women, Aisha lost her job as a cleaner. Rent was still due. Her children still needed to eat. Without her income, Aisha started to get desperate. That’s when she heard about CWS’s partner in Cairo, St. Andrew’s Refugee Services, from some other Eritrean refugees.

When she came to StARS, Aisha’s rent was two months overdue. Her family was out of food. She was seeking any kind of help. After assessing her situation, StARS stepped in to help. They provided her with cash support to pay her rent, and three months of food boxes. “Your assistance helped me to stabilize my life. I am very thankful for StARS’ help! I felt safe and supported at this phase of my life,” she told her caseworker.

This was exactly the support Aisha needed to make it through a rough period. She found work in late September.

Sadly, thousands of refugees in Cairo are in similarly dark times. Before the pandemic, more than 80% of Egypt’s refugees were already living in poverty. Now, wages are drying up. So many refugees who were barely scraping by are slipping into homelessness, hunger and extreme poverty.

With support from CWS, StARS is providing cash that refugees can use to buy food or pay bills, plus boxes of food and hygiene supplies. Refugees will use this assistance to survive until they are able to get back on their feet.

Ahmed came to Cairo as an unaccompanied refugee child from Sudan. Now a young man, he’s enrolled in an accelerated program at StARS for young people who missed out on some or all of school. StARS is providing Ahmed with a monthly food box so that the little money he has can go to cover other basic needs. Without this food support, Ahmed would have to drop out of school and likely be forced to take a risky or unstable job. Plus, Ahmed has diabetes, so it’s critically important that he have regular access to nutritious foods. With the food boxes from StARS, Ahmed is able to continue his education and focus on his future.

Mary arrived in Cairo at the height of the pandemic a few months ago. Like so many of the refugees coming into Cairo, Mary is a child who is on her own, without family to help her. Because of office closures during the pandemic, Mary hasn’t been able to register with the UNHCR yet. That means she isn’t eligible for a lot of the support that other refugees can access. Because her needs were dire and urgent, StARS immediately began to support her with food boxes. This has protected her from hunger during her first months in Cairo. The StARS team also helped her with financial support, care and housing.

And finally, there’s Fatma. She’s only 16 years old, but soon she will be a mother. She was raped in her home country of Eritrea. Her life was immediately at risk from an uncle, who wanted to kill her to preserve the family’s honor. Fatima’s parents have passed away, so she had no choice but to flee the country. She is now three months pregnant and living with another single mom and her children in Cairo. The food boxes from StARS help support Fatma with nutritious food during her pregnancy, and there’s enough food for the family she’s staying with, too.

During this unprecedented global emergency, StARS, CWS and all of our partners are working hard to meet changing and escalating needs. The team at StARS continues to focus on helping refugees find long-term stability through education, housing, counseling and legal services. But they must also meet the needs of the moment. These food boxes are a critical part of helping refugees survive and stay on a path that will eventually lead to brighter days.

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