Refugees like us know that charity isn’t enough. We’re tired of it. You need to empower people to make them self-reliant. You need to teach them how to fish. That is what the food truck means to us. There is great potential for this kind of model to empower refugees elsewhere.

Mariam Shaar, Exective Director of WPA Burj al Barajneh

The Challenge

According to the UN Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), two out of three Palestinian refugees in Lebanon live in poverty. Some 56 percent of refugees are unemployed and the jobs they do have are often unskilled positions that offer little job security.


When Mariam Shaar approached Alfanar in 2014, she was already running the Women’s Program Association (WPA) in the Burj al Barajneh Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, which provides education, vocational skills training and microloans to women in the camps.

As part of her work with the WPA, Mariam had recently carried out a survey of women in the camp to find out what they like doing, and how they thought they could generate an income and found that the majority said they wanted to improve their cooking skills. Mariam could see the opportunities to market delicious Palestinian food while also building women’s skills and confidence, so she asked Alfanar to help the WPA set up a catering unit to manifest her vision. 


Since 2013, Alfanar has invested in the Women’s Program Association (WPA), a community-based grassroots women’s organisation located in the Burj el Barajneh Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. Alfanar has worked closely with WPA to develop a multi-faceted business plan, which aims to use self-generated revenue through Soufra and the micro-loan portfolio to not only cover the costs of running these activities, but also to generate enough of a surplus to cross-subsidise WPA's early childhood development work.

a) help create steady employment opportunities for women refugees through the establishment of the Soufra catering unit and food truck;

b) enable WPA to serve a wider group of women micro-entrepreneurs by growing its micro-loan portfolio;

c) educate the next generation of refugees within the camp by establishing its first independent, non-religious Child Care Centre.

In December 2015, Alfanar ran a successful Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign, which was supported by over 700 individual donors to buy Soufra's first food truck and help it generate a steady stream of employment and income. WPA/Soufra was faced with a series of hurdles, including registration challenges, but finally made history in April 2017 by securing the first food truck wholly owned and operated by refugees in Lebanon.

After an initial pilot year that combined business support with seed funding to help cover the costs of launching the new catering unit, in 2014 Alfanar renewed their commitment to WPA, providing a new injection of funds aimed at professionalising its efforts. The catering unit was rebranded Soufra (meaning 'dining table' in Arabic), and in just two years, Alfanar helped the business recover all its costs, improve its offering and gain an edge in the highly competitive Beirut catering market.

Soufra is far more than just a catering business. It has had a profound impact on the lives of the women involved in it. Before, many of them say they felt hopeless, rarely leaving the camp. Today, they feel confident and excited about the future, and are leaders in their community.


WPA’s efforts to grow Soufra and secure a food truck have been captured in a documentary called “Soufra” produced by Susan Sarandon, which highlights this journey to empower the women of Burj el Barajneh.

Check out Mariam's story captured by clicking the video below:

Read more about WPA/Soufra here