Rebelhouse Group | Soufra Cookbook: Recipes from a Refugee Food Truck
Rebelhouse Group is a creative agency of adventurous filmmakers and inspired creatives. We are the rebellious-of-spirit who believe in the power of story to ignite growth and change. Rebelhouse produces documentary shorts and features, as well as narrative content to uplift audiences and make the world a better place.
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Soufra Cookbook: Recipes from a Refugee Food Truck

About This Project

This cookbook, and the affiliated documentary film also titled Soufra, by Rebelhouse Group, accompanies Mariam Shaar on her journey of empowerment by developing a thriving business that employs the incredible women of the Burj el-Barajneh refugee camp in Lebanon.

Mariam was born in the Burj el-Barajneh camp in the 1970s, almost three decades after her grandmother arrived as the Palestinian refugee crisis began. Like all refugees, her family was forbidden from holding most jobs, lacked documentation to leave the country legally, and did not have the financial means to move outside the camp. So they stayed. Mariam has spent her entire life in the camp, surviving the Lebanese Civil War and a series of other brutal conflicts, including the “war of the camps.”

Driven by a relentless desire to make life in the camp better, she dedicated herself to improving not only her own life but also the lives of those around her. In the 1990’s, she joined the Women’s Program Association, a community-based organization founded with the support of UNRWA to bring together women in the refugee camps in Lebanon to build new opportunities. Today she is the director of WPA’s community-based center in the Burj el-Barajneh camp.

Mariam’s vision has always been to create opportunities for the refugee community and improve lives through education and production. With the intention of creating a sustainable business at the WPA center in Burj el-Barajneh, she surveyed local women to get a sense of their interests. She discovered that many women were interested in utilizing their cooking skills, as they could participate in that at both the community center and in their own homes. Perhaps most important, it was something that reflected their heritage and passions, and something for which there would always be a market. Everyone needs to eat!

With seed funding and business planning support from Alfanar venture philanthropy, Soufra catering was born in 2013. Like any start-up, it went through many iterations. Different names, logos, and business plans were tested. Mariam partnered with Souk El Tayeb, a leading social enterprise in Lebanon, on training and branding. The idea was to revive traditional Palestinian dishes and offer them to the Beirut market. The dishes were met with huge acclaim. But despite the positive reviews, not enough catering orders were coming in. In a brainstorming session with the women of Soufra and its stakeholders, the idea of a food truck was hatched, and with it a whole new journey began!

In 2015, social justice filmmaker Thomas Morgan heard about Alfanar’s work with Soufra. He came to Lebanon to meet Mariam, and ended up dedicating two years of his life to filming her story and helping turn her vision into reality. With the help of a Kickstarter campaign, the Soufra women raised more than enough money to launch the first-ever refugee food truck. In so doing, they made it possible to take their food and their business to customers all over Lebanon, and began providing more and more jobs for women inside the camp.

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.

 

NEWS ABOUT SOUFRA

 
  • Museum of Moving Image reviews Soufra, stating the film "is a subtle stand against the common refrain “immigrants get the job done” (a particularly rampant fantasy since the election of Trump) and all that sorry slogan conveys: that immigrants can assert their humanity only if they provide anything of worth to the status quo. Soufra does not ask what needs immigrants are serving for the imagined recipients of their labor. Instead, the film answers what these women are doing for themselves."...

  • The New York Times describes Soufra as "a stirring tale of empowerment" in its review of the film. 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....

  • Padma Lakshmi reflects on Soufra, the Susan Sarandon-produced film about women who launch a catering business from a camp in Lebanon reveals how home cooking "sustains" and "gives them purpose" amid the stagnation of refugee life....

  • Susan Sarandon's new venture, a documentary film called Soufra, which she executive-produced through Rebelhouse Group and Pilgrim Media, looks at the value of how work and entrepreneurship empowers people. It's also designed to help Americans see refugees as people instead of a concept. "This is about seeing refugees as individuals, as people," Sarandon said in an interview with CNBC. "This is about believing they can have a dream."...

  • Eye for Film describes Soufra as "a documentary full of little details that open up broader perspectives, and it serves as a reminder that refugees have the same ambition and desire to improve their own lives and others' as people lucky enough to come from stable countries." 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....

  • Oscar-winning actress and executive producer Susan Sarandon was on the Rachael Ray Show to discuss Soufra. ...

  • Film Journal International reviews Soufra: " By the end of the film, the women have scaled the camp’s imaginary walls, and Shafar has taken on another challenge."...

  • Hollywood Reporter reviews Soufra: "Soufra's lasting impression is one of empowerment and the energizing sense of purpose and community that the women derive from the enterprise along with their incomes." 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 LA Times describes Soufra as an "uplifting documentary" in its review of the film. 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....

  • Mariam Shaar is a problem-solver — she has to be. Shaar spent her entire life in the Bourj el-Barajneh Refugee Camp in the suburbs of Beirut, established in 1948 for Palestinians and now home to thousands of Syrians. In the nourishing documentary Soufra, Thomas Morgan shows the claustrophobic living conditions and dangerous infrastructure of the tightly packed concrete towers, and chronicles how Lebanese government bureaucracy maintains the camp’s invisible borders and keeps occupants in a permanent state of legal limbo....

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Credits

President, Rebelhouse Publishing: Trevor Hall
Creative Director: Gretchen Thomas
Photography: Vivien Killilea Best
Book Design & Layout: Nickie DeTolve
Recipe Editor & Advisor: Rachel Best
Recipe Tester: Pat Whyde
Copy Editor: Jamie Feldmar
Translators: Sally Abi Khalil & Haifa Najjar

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