Tackling hunger and food waste in Lebanon

Maya Terro, FoodBlessed, food waste

World Food Day

World Food Day is celebrated every year on 16 October in recognition of the establishment of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation in 1945.

The event celebrates the work of Food Heroes from around the globe who are involved in organisations concerned with hunger and food security.

Maya Terro

SOAS University of London has its own Food Hero in the shape of Maya Terro.  Maya studied MSc Migration, Mobility and Development at SOAS before returning to her home country of Lebanon to set up the non-profit organisation FoodBlessed, where she is a political, social and environmental activist, whose personal mission is to tackle hunger and food waste.

FoodBlessed

FoodBlessed is a pioneering community-based non-profit organisation led by a group of dedicated volunteers known as Hunger Heroes, which aims to provide a sustainable solution to the twin problems of food poverty and food waste in Lebanon.

Maya Terro, FoodBlessed

Maya describes her work at FoodBlessed and her experiences studying at SOAS.

Can you describe your work at FoodBlessed?

I’m a Hunger Hero at FoodBlessed.  I rescue lives and fight food waste on a daily basis, one meal at a time!  Professionally speaking, I am currently the co-founder and executive director of FoodBlessed, striving to unite and nourish communities through the power of food, social responsibility, and volunteerism.

Replacing the traditional food-as-charity, needs-based model with a proactive rights-based approach to food security, FoodBlessed works to raise awareness about hunger across business and within the civil society, as well as offering practical solutions to reduce food waste.  We believe that environmental responsibility goes hand in hand with social responsibility.

Where did the idea for FoodBlessed come from?

FoodBlessed was born out of the need to unite and nourish communities through the power of food, social responsibility and volunteerism.

In Lebanon, almost 30 percent of all edible food never gets eaten.  In 2012, I became a food activist.  With FoodBlessed, I was able to turn my passion for food and my pursuit of empowering others into a humanitarian mission that ‘nourishes’ individuals, communities, and public institutions to promote positive change in their country, one meal at a time.

This means the work we do directly and meaningfully improves the community-at-large!  By offering food supplies, preparing meals as well as raising awareness regarding food waste, our work not only brings hope and meaning to those we seek to serve, it also enriches the lives of those helping us achieve this goal.  In addition to providing food assistance to vulnerable Lebanese families, FoodBlessed also supports other vulnerable communities including refugees, domestic migrant workers, drug addicts, single mothers, widows and spinsters, people with special needs as well as the LGBTQ+ community.  This is made possible thanks to our network of local partners, which includes local NGOs as well as our extended network of volunteers and various community members.

Since its inception, thousands of our Hunger Heroes have helped spread FoodBlessed’s message far and wide to help make hunger and food waste a thing of the past.  Since then, together with our extended network of volunteers and community partners, we’ve successfully distributed over 3,000,000 free meals and more than 45,000 food parcels to those in need.  We also managed to saved more than one million tonnes of food from the bin.  All amazing achievements that we’re really proud of.  However, our job is far from over.

What next for FoodBlessed?

Today, the community-based and volunteer-driven approach adopted by FoodBlessed is needed more than ever.  Everyone will have seen or heard about Lebanon’s failing government and deteriorating economy.  Sadly, almost 80% of the population is now living under the poverty line.  This means more mouths to feed and makes the work of FoodBlessed more important than ever.

What made you want to study at SOAS?

I chose SOAS to study the MSc in Migration, Mobility and Development because the course is truly one of a kind.  When searching for similar Masters courses around the world, the one offered at SOAS always popped up among the top ones in the world.

On a personal level, I’ve always worked on my self-development.  For me, self-development is an ongoing thing and is to a large extent the result of continuous learning.  Pursuing a graduate degree at SOAS was a step in the right direction!

And you’ve been chosen as a Chevening Changemaker?

I was awarded a Chevening Scholarship to pursue my degree at SOAS.

For its 35th anniversary, Chevening celebrated 35 of its alumni who are impacting lives all over the world. The moment when I found out that I have been selected amongst the 35 global change makers who exemplify the spirit of 50,000 Chevening Alumni, was hands down one of my proudest moments!

What is it about SOAS that attracts people who want to make a positive impact?

SOAS students are probably amongst the most active individuals that I have met in my lifetime.  They are so passionate and driven about campaigning on the issues they care about.  I feel very fortunate and privileged to have met so many of these great people during my study year at SOAS and I doubt any other university can claim to be as politically active and vibrant as SOAS is.  If you are interested in the power of education and in witnessing the change that a small group of thoughtful, committed, diverse citizens can introduce to the world, then SOAS is just the place for you.

What advice would you give to other SOAS alumni who want to make a difference in the world?

Be unapologetically you.  As a young, female, activist it is difficult to be an agent of change at times, especially in Arab societies.  But, if you’re anything like me, always remind yourself to never lose hope; to be true to yourself; and to spend as much time as you can doing what you love, because you only get one life.

Choose your battles.  Trying is half the battle.  Wherever life leads you, it doesn’t matter ‘what’ you do; what really matter is ‘why’ you do it.  As such, try to make sure that what you do ends up having a tangible impact and making a positive difference in other people’s lives.

Never.  Stop.  Learning.  Knowledge is power, so make sure you learn as much as you can, from where you are, while you can.  SOAS is great in that it offers boundless opportunities to meet and hear from people from all parts of the world, both inside and outside the classroom.

Find out more:

Check out some of FoodBlessed’s great work on Instagram
Visit FoodBlessed’s donation page to discover how you can help to tackle food waste
MSc Migration, Mobility and Development
MA Anthropology of Food
SOAS Food Studies Centre

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