World Refugee Day: Cooking up a storm on a WFP-project in Turkey

WFP’s Kitchen of Hope brings one Syrian woman a step closer to her dream of continuing her family’s restaurant tradition

Melissa Loukieh
Jun 19, 2020 · 4 min read
Hadeel’s sociable character helped her build good relationshipand her colleagues. Photo: WFP/MelissaLoukieh

Hadeel, a biology teacher from Syria, has a keen interest in nutrition — her family history is entwined with restaurants and cooking. Her ambition is to open a restaurant in Turkey, where she now lives with her family.

Months ago, she could barely have thought that her training with the Kitchen of Hope livelihoods project would end up going online.

It provides chef assistant training to both Syrians living under temporary protection and Turkish citizens. It aims to help them increase their livelihoods and experience in hotels, restaurants and cafes.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the reality of partial lockdowns and school closures has had significant implications for the livelihoods training and its participants,” says Nils Grede, Turkey Representative and Country Director for the World Food Programme (WFP).

“After the confirmation of the first coronavirus case in Turkey and school closures in March, we quickly adapted by switching face-to-face classes to online training through a dedicated YouTube channel, including Arabic subtitles in the videos. Knowing that refugees would be hit hard by the economic consequences of COVID-19, we also provided them with additional cash to pay for an internet connection at home so they could attend virtual classes.”

“At the onset of the crisis, I thought that the suspension of the classes wouldn’t last more than a week. Later WFP team phoned us to make sure we have internet and the proper means to follow the classes online,” says Hadeel as she recounts how all this began.

Hadeel taking part in a survey conducted by WFP staff to assess the impact of the project on participants’ life. WFP/MelissaLoukieh

Although online training was a first for her, the young mother of two found it a fruitful experience. “Learning from multiple chefs is enriching because each one of them has a unique cooking style. This has added a lot to my knowledge base,” she says.

Despite the programme’s new conditions, Hadeel’s enthusiasm to become a chef was undimmed. “I still feel as excited about starting a career in the culinary sector as I was before the crisis began,” she says.

Hadeel jokes: “The only bad thing about the online classes is that I couldn’t taste all the delicious meals that the chefs prepared”.

The 31-year-old fled Aleppo in 2013 and comes from a family of caterers. Her grandfather father was a cook, two of her uncles and two of her aunts have been running restaurants for 35 years. Interestingly, even the meaning of her surname is directly related to cooking.

Nonetheless, Hadeel looks at cooking from a different perspective. For her, it’s about nutrition, which she studied as part of her biology degree, and finding a reliable way of making a living. That’s why she signed up for the Kitchen of Hope project. “The current circumstances made me feel the need to acquire a profession that will not change with life’s ups and downs,” she says.

Hadeel believes that this project complements her educational background. “Biology teaches us the nutritional value of food. I want to combine what I learned at the university with the cooking skills I am developing through Kitchen of Hope and eventually open a restaurant. By serving people healthy food, I want to raise awareness about the importance of taking care of ourselves through nutrition,” she says.

When asked about how the project helps her achieve this, she says: “The training doesn’t just help me improve my cooking skills. The trainers made sure to shine a light on the nutritional value of certain food and how it must be packed and stored. As a result, I build on what I have already learned at the university”.

But is this all that Kitchen of Hope has offered to Hadeel? Of course not. Sharing the kitchen with others has taught Hadeel something else too. “I didn’t like cooking in a group before. This project has shown me that cooking with others is fun”.

Funded by the Republic of Korea and the Kingdom of Norway, MUV (the acronym for Kitchen of Hope in Turkish) is implemented by WFP in partnership with Turkish Ministry of National Education (MoNE), ISKUR (the Turkish Employment agency), and, in the province of Mardin, the Sukraan Foundation.

This year, MUV aims to train a minimum of 600 participants on MoNE’s certified Chef Assistant curriculum and assist them with their on the job training component with ISKUR. The programme is being rolled out in the provinces of Adana, Ankara, Hatay, Istanbul, Izmir, Kilis, Mardin, Mersin and Sanliurfa.

Learn more about the World Food Programme’s work in Turkey

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

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