George Stroumboulopoulos speaking with a family in Syria © Courtesy of the World Food Programme
By Allie Murray
Since the onset of COVID-19 and now with the ripple effect from the war in Ukraine, the world has been struggling with record-high prices for food and energy. For Syrians, this was the last blow after 11 years of crises that have already exhausted their ability to cope and feed their families.
Organizations like the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) have been instrumental in supporting Syrian families with food assistance, reaching over 5.5 million people every month. WFP Goodwill Ambassador George Stroumboulopoulos travelled to Aleppo, Syria to see the scale and reach of WFP’s work first-hand.
“Syria is a country with enormous challenges, it has the sixth-highest number of food-insecure people globally,” Stroumboulopoulos explained. “Food insecurity drivers, from economic decline and inflation to fuel shortages and skyrocketing prices, were further exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine.”
Stroumboulopoulos, who is known for his broadcast work in Canadian media such as Hockey Night in Canada, George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, The Hour on CBC, and now host of STROMBO on Apple Music, joined WFP as a Goodwill Ambassador in 2011, being named the first Canadian National Ambassador Against Hunger. His tenure with WFP has brought him to places such as Pakistan and Haiti, and most recently, Syria.
“Of the many things you learn with WFP, it’s almost never one reason that people are hungry,” Stroumboulopoulos shared. “Poverty, conflict, women’s rights and so many more realities play a role in creating food insecurity.”
While in Aleppo, he met with a variety of people—both locals and individuals from other humanitarian organizations—but it was two Syrian women, Ghufran and Zuha, who stood out to him.
“Ghufran suffered so much during the conflict, losing two brothers and her husband—she fights every day to keep her family going,” he said. “There’s a resilience and fight in her that was truly powerful. Plus, she’s a Taekwondo champion and she lights up when talking about that.”
“Zuha was once a WFP recipient and now works for WFP,” he continued. “She has transformed into a really compelling voice in Aleppo, and I was so grateful to learn about the city through her eyes.”
After returning from Aleppo, Stroumboulopoulos continues to reflect on the crisis Syrians are facing. “Twelve million people are food insecure and nearly two million more are on the verge of sliding into that category,” he explained. “With winter coming, energy shortages and near absence of power supply many people are facing a bleak and dangerous winter.”
Canada has played an important role in supporting WFP’s operations in Syria, working together to reach people with life-saving assistance when they needed it most. Stroumboulopoulos urges, if you’re able to, donate to WFP to support people like Ghufran. “WFP reaches over 5.5 million people across the country with food assistance, which now increasingly takes the form of cash,” he said. “Cash assistance enables the purchase of food from WFP contracted retailers, not only benefiting the local community but empowering women like Ghufran to choose the food they purchase, supporting their agency and dignity.”