Syrian refugees find hope in kitchen

US government-funded project for refugees in Turkey is called LIFE — Livelihoods Innovation through Food Entrepreneurship. (Supplied photo)
Updated 08 June 2018
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Syrian refugees find hope in kitchen

  • Falafel and hummus are helping displaced families get back on track after civil war derailed their lives
  • An estimated 3.5 million Syrian refugees live in Turkey after seven long years of civil war in their own country.

ISTANBUL: Ennam Alshayib wakes up every morning, grateful for her new life and renewed purpose. But memories of the last four years she has spent on the run from war-torn Syria still haunt her. 

First there was the arduous journey she took from Damascus with her family in tow, followed by their arrival in Egypt, desperate and tired. Then they went on to Dubai, before eventually reaching their new home in Turkey.

After a difficult start to her time here, the turning point came when she spotted a Facebook post from a US government-funded project for refugees in Turkey called LIFE — Livelihoods Innovation through Food Entrepreneurship.

She immediately applied to take part and was soon sitting in the LIFE office, inside a cozy four-story building in the middle of the main industrial zone of Istanbul.

An estimated 3.5 million Syrian refugees live in Turkey after seven long years of civil war in their own country. Many of them find it difficult to find regular employment, begging on the streets of Istanbul or living in squalid refugee camps.

LIFE, which was launched last September, aims to change that. It was started by a consortium of Turkish, Syrian and American partners who wanted to support refugees to earn a living through starting up restaurants and food businesses.

The two-year project is targeted at refugees in Gaziantep, near Turkey’s southern border with Syria, and Istanbul, with the goal of giving them greater independence and helping them integrate into Turkish society.

The project is to have a total of 1,240 direct beneficiaries, 75 percent of them Syrians, and at least half of them women. 

Participants are trained in various fields ranging from food marketing and hygiene, to e-commerce and packaging. 

At the end of the program, they publish their own cookbooks with recipes for Turkish, Syrian and other Middle Eastern dishes, as well as stories about the origins of each dish. Participants come from varying backgrounds, bringing with them different skills and experiences. 

“I graduated from university with a degree in pre-school education,” Alshayib told Arab News. “But I have always found the food industry attractive and have experience cooking for big events at the company my husband was working for in Damascus.”

Before joining the LIFE program, Alshayib was selling traditional Syrian foods, such as hummus and falafel, at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. She hopes to set up her own Syrian restaurant in Turkey after graduating from the program.

Another participant, 48-year-old Jordanian Rabeia Alsheshany, also dreams of running her own business.

“I’m now in the middle of Europe and it’s become my home country. My daughter studies at university here and I would prefer to stay here for the rest of my life,” she said.

Each trainee is assigned a mentor. The program culminates in a competition during which the trainees will pitch their business plans to a panel of judges. The two most innovative will be chosen to receive financial support.

Ali Ercan Ozgur, is president of International Development Management, a Turkish civil society organization and one of the sponsors of LIFE. 

“The most important role of this project will be to support the skills that will help (refugees) have a sustainable livelihood,” he said. He described food as a “common language” that can help unite the people of Turkey and Syria.


Saudi home-bakers cooking up sweet business on internet

Nada Kutbi started baking from home for family and friends before setting up her Sucre De Nada pastry shop to expand her home business. (Photos/Supplied)
Updated 22 May 2019
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Saudi home-bakers cooking up sweet business on internet

  • Thanks to social media, business is booming for Jeddah’s cake and pastry makers

JEDDAH: Enterprising Saudi home-bakers have been turning to social media to help cook up some sweet business success.
The Kingdom’s food producers are proving to be some of the rising stars of the internet, and none more so than 53-year-old mom Nada Kutbi.
Her Sucre De Nada pastry shop in Jeddah has become one of the go-to places for homemade desserts and cakes, and the online side of her business is also booming.
Kutbi’s daughter, Nassiba Khashoggi, told Arab News: “She has basically been baking all her life, especially after having children. She used to make cookies for us and whenever she tried a dessert somewhere else, she would recreate it.
“In restaurants or gatherings, she would always analyze sweets and make them at home for her family. That was how she started baking.
“I don’t think she ever thought she could pursue it as a career, but everyone loved her baking and one of her closest friends encouraged her to start her business when she was a stay-at-home mom.
“It was in 2011-2012, and her friend basically forced her to start by telling her, ‘yallah! make a cake and I will buy it from you now.’”
Khashoggi added: “In the beginning we just went by word of mouth, but when Instagram came along, we made an account and started posting pictures and the customers loved her creativity and uniqueness. I don’t think many people knew what banoffee was before my mom promoted it.”
Although Kutbi’s unique takes and touches went down a treat with customers, it was not until Ramadan last year that she officially opened her bakery in Jeddah.
But stepping up from running a home business presented new challenges. “When you are running a home business there are few staff and it is easy to control,” said Khashoggi. But expanding requires you to put more trust in other people and that was difficult for my mom. Also, when we increased the number of our products it became harder to maintain the quality of goods.”
Kutbi aims to avoid storing, pre-baking or freezing her products and is not a fan of mass production and blast freezing, according to her daughter. “In short, she is against commercial baking,” said Khashoggi. “What is unique about my mom is that everything she makes is made the same day from scratch. It makes it harder for her to redo everything but that’s what makes her special.”

HIGHLIGHtS

• The Kingdom’s food producers are proving to be some of the rising stars of the internet, none more so than 53-year-old mom Nada Kutbi.

• Kutbi’s unique takes and touches have been a hit with customer, but it was not until Ramadan last year that she officially opened her bakery in Jeddah.

Sometimes customers even send pictures or pieces of dessert to Kutbi asking her to recreate their favorite foods.
Another Jeddah-based bakery thriving on the internet is Ganache. Run by Anas Khashoggi, 58, and Jamila Ali Islam, 48, the pastry business has been operating for almost 20 years.
Khashoggi supported his wife after spotting her talent for baking and took a leap of faith by giving up his job and starting an online bakery.
“At that time, there was no social media, but we made an introductory website, which helped us gain popularity,” he said. That was in 1996, and the couple’s first store opened later the same year.
“Ganache has its own unique spirit as a family business, and it is run by Saudi youth who are managing the bakery and understand the Saudi market. The family committee is the one that approves the products,” added Khashoggi.