Migrateful: Empowering and Celebrating Refugees and Migrants Through Cookery Classes

By: Carina Low, MSc Development Studies

Migrateful’s mission is to support refugees and migrants with their integration in the UK. It does this by helping them lead cookery classes where they teach their home country’s cuisine. Founded in 2017, Migrateful now hosts classes in four cities – London, Bristol, Kent and, most recently, Brighton. Chefs are provided with training, opportunities to build employability, language skills, confidence, and the chance to be part of a supportive network. 

BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER WITH A UNIVERSAL LOVE OF FOOD

Cooking appeared to be a shared ability amongst much of the group and as they sat sharing with each other about their different traditional dishes, the Migrateful idea was born: ‘the cooking skills of refugee and migrant communities, combined with our universal love of food, could be harnessed to bring people together.’

The concept for Migrateful came about at a skill exchange project for refugee women in East London, set up by the charity’s founder, Jess Thompson. During discussions, it was clear that most of these women faced barriers to work despite their eagerness and, for many, experience and qualifications. This had left them socially and economically isolated. Cooking appeared to be a shared ability amongst much of the group and as they sat sharing with each other about their different traditional dishes, the Migrateful idea was born: ‘the cooking skills of refugee and migrant communities, combined with our universal love of food, could be harnessed to bring people together.’

Chef Awa teaches participants to make Gambian dishes (Credit: Jessy Amr)

EMPOWERING CHEFS

The organisation is represented by its community of 52 chefs hailing from a number of different countries including Jamaica, Nigeria, Venezuela, Bangladesh, Eritrea, and China. Among them are mother and daughter duo, Elahe and Parastoo. They were forced to leave Iran in 2006 after the political situation became dangerous. Although Elahe had spent seven years training to be a psychologist, she struggled to find employment in the UK because of language barriers and because her qualifications were not recognised. 

She was one of the women in the aforementioned skills exchange project and hosted the first ever Migrateful class making Baba Ganoush on camping stoves. She shares that, ‘Not being able to communicate and meet people were the biggest barriers to integration I faced when I arrived in the UK…Migrateful is really helping me find purpose. At our cookery classes, the people I meet seem so excited to talk to me and now I feel really welcome in this country.’ Parastoo started assisting her mother when she met challenges finding work after graduating from university with a nutrition degree. She explains that, ‘Iranian food is very colourful and takes attention and time to prepare. I grew up eating my mum’s food and feel very inspired by her creative and bold cooking. Cooking together has brought us even closer. I feel very proud when we get a chance to share our Iranian food.’ Now Parastoo hosts her own classes as well as continuing to work alongside Elahe.

Chef Elahe and Chef Parastoo guide participants in making Iranian recipes (Credit: Fede Rivas)

Another long standing member of the charity’s community is Ahmed. He was a Red Cross paramedic who was paralyzed when shot during the war in his home nation of Lebanon, leading him to flee. Ten years on, as well as regularly training class participants in making Moussaka and Tabbouleh, he takes part in the UK wheelchair basketball championships and has starred in The Russell Howard Hour representing Migrateful. He believes that, ‘life has many different stages. One moment you’re up and in the blink of your eye you’re down. But you must never give up. Every stage involves a new version of you. There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. What’s happened to me in my life has taught me that sometimes life throws strange things at you. I believe life gives you the message for a reason, only time shows you the meaning of this message. I feel very grateful for my life. I know that I’m still better off than a lot of other people.’

Chef Ahmed trains his classes in Lebanese cuisine (Credit: Migrateful)

THE ESSENTIAL ‘CLASS SIDEKICKS’

As well as being powered by its chefs, the organisation wouldn’t be able to run without its volunteers. Over the years, they have helped to make a difference to the lives of so many of the Migrateful family through their essential support in the smooth running of classes. To recognise and celebrate this, an initiative has been introduced where valued ‘class sidekicks’’ receive a variety of rewards. These include class vouchers, Migrateful aprons, and exclusive events (e.g. regular parties to welcome new recruits and celebrate everyone’s hard work), not to mention the dishes enjoyed after every class when the chef, facilitator, participants, and volunteers sit round a table to share food, reflections, and stories.

THE FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT

With the newly launched Brighton location, an increasing number of advocates (including Meghan Markle and Jamie Oliver) and a growing community of chefs and alumni, the future looks bright for the Migrateful family. 

Migrateful’s regular public and private classes take place in London, Bristol, Kent and Brighton, to book, buy vouchers or enquire, visit www.migrateful.org

Volunteers sign up for six week cycles as part of the Orange Onion Club, to apply or find information, visit bit.ly/orangeonionclub

Photo Caption: The Migrateful Team on their 2nd anniversary (Credit: Migrateful UK)

Post Author: SOAS Spirit

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