SORAN, Iraq – When Hanaa Eliya Moussa entered a shop in the northern Iraqi town of Soran recently, she experienced something she had not known since fleeing home: the ability to choose what her family was going to eat for their next meal.
“I can now cook traditional meals for my family. This reminds us of the life we had back home,” said a cheerful Hanaa as she shopped for eggs, cheese, pasta, bulgur wheat, rice milk and chicken. “Chicken is really what the children were missing the most.”
Hanaa and her family of seven have been on the run since August, having barely escaped militants who overran their hometown of Bartalla, about 200 km to the west of Soran. For months, the family lived in a Soran school with other displaced families and relied on food parcels from the World Food Programme (WFP). The family is now renting a home in the town.
Now, the Moussa family is among the first in the area to receive a monthly WFP voucher worth US$26, or 30,000 Iraqi dinars, that can be exchanged for food at designated shops nearby. Food vouchers help families and individuals who have found safety in places where there are sufficient food supplies in local shops. Frequently the fleeing families have lost all their money and valuables.
When asked about the use of food vouchers, local store owner Khaled Moustafa praised the programme, saying “My business has increased with a steady number of clients every month.”
WFP distributed 40,000 food vouchers to displaced Iraqis in the towns of Soran and Shaqlawa in Erbil governorate this month and plans to reach half a million Iraqis by early next year. WFP is increasingly providing vouchers whenever possible, giving people more flexibility in their daily lives and supporting local economies and retailers.
Food vouchers were distributed to displaced Iraqis for the first time since the conflict began thanks to generous donations from Saudi Arabia, Japan and Germany.
With a husband and six children to feed, Hanaa said she barely steps out of the kitchen. Back home in Bartallah, the enterprising Christian housewife used to bake bread, raise chickens, and grow her own produce. Now she strives to recreate the past in what she calls her “temporary” home, growing a small but productive garden and baking bread.
Now able to enjoy a tastier and more varied diet, Hanaa and her family offered to share a home-cooked meal with me and my colleague Fahad Alnimah after we met at the shop. Step by step, Hanaa and her daughters set out to prepare lunch: Bringing out the cutlery, setting the table and stirring a boiling pot of rice-stuffed courgettes and egg plants.
In no time, the smell of fried chicken fills the air and Hanaa’s youngest son, Rami, hurries to take his seat at the table. The feast is ready, and we all gather at the table to enjoy the Moussa family’s first taste of home and a new level of freedom since escaping the conflict that has changed so many lives in the region.