How some Syrian refugees can pay for food with the blink of an eye.
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Gates Foundation: The Story of Food

"I used to be a farmer, growing tomatoes and potatoes ... I dream to go back home."

It was 2012 when Abu Alaa finally decided to flee his country with his wife and five kids amidst the dangerous Syrian conflict that took the life of his brother and burned down his house.

Still, it was hard for him to leave home. And it's hard for most people to even imagine being put in that situation to begin with.


Image via Morgan Shoaff/Welcometoterranova.

Syrians like him have gone through unthinkable hardships in the past few years.

Since 2011, more than 650,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Jordan for safety due to the ongoing conflict back home.

They now make up 10% of Jordan's total population — that's a lot of people to take in over such a short amount of time. While some countries have been criticized for turning their backs on refugees, Jordan has opened its arms to them.

As many refugees have tried to start over in camps or in urban areas of other countries, in dire conditions with very little to their name, it begs the question: Is it possible to maintain a sense of normalcy?

It's a loaded question, and for most, the answer is an instant "no." But in Jordan, United Nations-based Better Than Cash Alliance, a global partnership of governments, companies and international organizations, are working together to see how digital technology can help take a load off for refugees.

Jordan is using digital methods to make life — and accessing food — as easy as possible for Syrian refugees.

Some of these programs are creating promising solutions in a tough situation.

All images used with permission from Maria de la Guardia/Better Than Cash Alliance, unless otherwise noted.

E-cards give refugees a voice and a choice when it comes to the food they eat.

When people's entire lives are uprooted and they're forced to start over with next to nothing, the two most basic things for survival are food and shelter. The World Food Programme's (WFP) got the food part down.

Their updated approach to food assistance in Jordan says "no more" to the old methods of beneficiaries waiting in long lines to obtain paper food vouchers or to be handed items they may not even need. Instead, the WFP is working to put the control back in the hands of the Syrian refugees in Jordan through e-cards.

Every month, refugees receive a simple text message with the amount they are able to receive through the WFP. They can then go to one of over 200 markets in the country to choose the items they want, and they purchase them with their WFP e-card.

"I feel more secure using the e-card and am able to buy a range of products. I care more about quality, and the quality at this market is good," said WFP beneficiary named Kifah (pictured above).

The e-card looks and works just like a debit card for the most part — and that's the point. This digital payment method brings more dignity and normalcy back into the lives of Syrians who used to use debit and credit cards in their everyday life back home.

Digital payments used by refugees are paying off for Jordanians too. Since 2012, the voucher programme for Syrians has pumped almost $600 million back into the local Jordan economy, according to the WFP.

Some refugees can even pay for groceries with the blink of their eye.

Paying for items with your eyeball? In our digital age, it seems like something that could happen in the distant future. In Jordan, it's already very real for many Syrian refugee families.

Thanks to a partnership between the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Cairo Amman Bank, Jordan is the first country to use iris scan technology to allow refugees to access cash grants from participating nonprofits.

It works like this: You look into the device and it'll scan your iris, registering who you are and allowing you to purchase food items from markets or to take out money from an ATM. No additional identification or pin numbers needed.

You've just gotta be you — and what's easier than that?

The system has been so successful that it's being expanded to other regional countries to help aid in the Syria crisis.

High tech payment solutions aim to make life a bit easier — but they also keep refugees safer too.

Not having to carry as much cash around helps refugees feel more secure in their environment. And with iris scans in particular, an anti-fraudmeasure eliminates the possibility for others to pretend to be someone else and use their resources.

In the unfathomable situation millions of Syrians have been forced into, e-cards and iris scans help — but they can only do so much.

Many still have difficulty affording rent and accessing the health care they need. And the food assistance, while helpful, still isn't enough to get them back on their feet.

But there is no doubt that incorporating digital solutions does provide a silver lining. Even in the hardest of times, people are finding ways to use technology to improve conditions and to help restore dignity in the lives of Syrians.

As one refugee expressed, "I hope for freedom and for my kids to grow up feeling free and safe and empowered."

Perhaps technology will play a part in keeping that hope alive.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
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For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
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Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

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With the election quickly approaching, the importance of voting and sending in your ballot on time is essential. But there is another way you can vote everyday - by being intentional with each dollar you spend. Support companies and products that uphold your values and help create a more sustainable world. An easy move is swapping out everyday items that are often thrown away after one use or improperly disposed of.

Package Free Shop has created products to help fight climate change one cotton swab at a time! Founded by Lauren Singer, otherwise known as, "the girl with the jar" (she initially went viral for fitting 8 years of all of the waste she's created in one mason jar). Package Free is an ecosystem of brands on a mission to make the world less trashy.

Here are eight of our favorite everyday swaps:

1. Friendsheep Dryer Balls - Replace traditional dryer sheets with these dryer balls that are made without chemicals and conserve energy. Not only do these also reduce dry time by 20% but they're so cute and come in an assortment of patterns!

Package Free Shop

2. Last Swab - Replacement for single use plastic cotton swabs. Nearly 25.5 billion single use swabs are produced and discarded every year in the U.S., but not this one. It lasts up to 1,000 uses as it's able to be cleaned with soap and water. It also comes in a biodegradable, corn based case so you can use it on the go!

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