Soufra is an amazing film about female refugees finding hope and happiness in the kitchen
Soufra is an award-winning documentary by filmmaker Thomas Morgan, made by RebelHouse Asia with executive producer Susan Sarandon, which is showing in Singapore right now. It tracks the incredible journey of Mariam Shaar, a generational refugee living in the Burj El Barajneh refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon (where her family has lived for the past 70 years).
In 2014 Mariam approached Alfanar, a venture philanthropy organization working exclusively in the Arab region. She was already running the Women’s Program Association (WPA) in the refugee camp, which provided education, vocational skills training and microloans to women from Syria, Palestine, Iraq and the Lebanon. 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. Many felt helpless, lonely and depressed. The survey 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. And that vision became a business named Soufra.
Thomas Morgan follows Mariam and her team as she attempts to get permission to buy a catering van, in order for Soufra to expand, to take food outside the camp and cater for parties and functions. However it’s not an easy task with the powers that be opposed to the idea!
As the film progresses you cannot fail to notice the frustrations that the women face day to day: bringing up their families in the crowded camp, surrounded by squalor, as well as the personal frustrations of the group as they strive to improve their lives. Shining brightest is Mariam’s strength, the group’s unity (and humour!), and their resilience, as they let nothing get in their way. Mariam has no plan B. If plan A doesn’t work she keeps on going until it does.
Catch the Singapore screening on Thursday, 6 September at The Projector followed by a post-show Q + A with Director Thomas Morgan afterwards. There is also a Soufra Cookbook for sale, with all proceeds going towards a children’s centre, which is being built in the camp so that mothers can have a break, children can enjoy an education, and women in the camp can find it easier to work.
Lead image by Vivien Killilia Best.