“Bread is the most essential of our needs”

“Bread is the most essential of our needs”

31. 10. 2019

Until seventeen months ago, Haitham was a farmer in a quiet village. He planted wheat and barley and kept a small herd of sheep. But one winter, an escalation in airstrikes and shellings in southern Idlib forced thousands like him from their homes and sent them fleeing northwards. 

“All the villagers left,” he explained. “Almost forty families moved with us... I barely managed to bring some small items of furniture to use for sleeping and cooking.”

Haitham’s family was lucky, because a villager offered them a place to stay, saving them from life in a tent. It was an act of kindness Haitham is extremely grateful for, along with the fact that it is safe enough in this new village to send his twin 9-year-old daughters to school.

But his changed life has been a struggle. “I not only lost my home and furniture, but also my source of income,” Haitham told us. Like thousands of others forced from their lands, he is now unable to do the only work he knows: farming.

It is to help families like Haitham’s that People in Need, with funding from USAID’s Office of Food for Peace, has been subsidising bread at 100 shops across northern Syria. Over the last year, we donated 1872 megatonnes of flour to Syria, allowing 24,000 families to receive bread at half price.

Bread has been at the heart of Syrian cuisine for thousands of years, and has huge cultural significance. As Haitham put it: “Bread is the most essential of our food needs, and we eat it with all meals.”

Subsidizing the bread is an approach we developed because our interviews showed it helped remove the stigma associated with receiving free assistance. We have chosen our partner bakeries carefully, as reflected in a recent assessment which found that families felt our subsidized bread was of better quality than other bread available on the market.

The money saved helps families in distress to afford other important items, like medicine, rent, baby milk, and fuel for heating. Mohamed, for example, who is a father of five, had been struggling to buy drinking water for his family. Now, he explained, “I can save from the bread money to buy water for the home.”

“It has greatly reduced our burdens”

Mahmoud, the head of one of our partner bakeries, told us that he can see how the project is benefiting vulnerable families in his area, which had been heavily affected by the ongoing conflict in Syria. It has also allowed the bakery to pay better salaries to its 50 employees.

“With the supported bread, there is now a huge difference,” Haitham concluded. “…the quality has improved and the price has decreased. This project has greatly reduced our burdens.”

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People in Need’s bakery project in northern Syria is generously funded by USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. Learn more about our work in Syria here.

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Author: Omar Khattab and Riona Judge McCormack, People in Need