Soufra follows the unlikely and wildly inspirational story of intrepid social entrepreneur, Mariam Shaar – a generational refugee who has spent her entire life in the Burj El Barajneh refugee camp just south of Beirut, Lebanon. The film follows Mariam as she sets out against all odds to change her fate by launching a successful catering company, “Soufra,” and then expand it into a food truck business with a diverse team of fellow refugee woman who now share this camp as their home. Together, they heal the wounds of war through the unifying power of food while taking their future into their own hands through an unrelenting belief in Mariam, and in each other. In the process, Mariam is breaking barriers, pulling together Syrian, Iraqi, Palestinian and Lebanese women to work side by side and form beautiful friendships while running this thriving business.
Soufra will shine a new and revealing light on people inside of the largest refugee crisis in human history, but ultimately this film is about hope, grit, passion and the common bonds created by bringing people together around food as a bridge to overcome all barriers. Though Mariam is officially considered “stateless” she is a beacon of hope and home for thousands upon thousands of women in the most unlikely of places. Mariam and her team will be just that for thousands more once her story is told through Soufra.
Established in 2004, Alfanar is the first venture philanthropy organization working exclusively in the Arab region. Alfanar’s goal is to ensure that the poor and vulnerable, especially women and children, are able to access the education and opportunity they need to lead productive and dignified lives. They work to help social enterprises improve lives through financial stability, supporting grassroots organizations and helping them achieve lasting social change in their communities.
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.
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.
You can support the women of Soufra by purchasing the Soufra Cookbook.
Not only does this cookbook share some of the most treasured recipes that changed the lives of the Soufra women, but it also will give back to the families at the camp. The women of Soufra, through WPA, are full partners in the publication of this book. They will share equally in proceeds from its sales, which will contribute to the ongoing development of the camp’s Children’s Center and to building a school for the children in the camp.