Waikato woman uses food to help refugees integrate into New Zealand culture

They say home is where the heart is and if that's the case, then there's a lot of heart in the kitchen of one Hamilton cafe.

"Food is absolutely a universal language - I think if you look across many different cultures, food is a constant," former Red Cross volunteer Tania Jones told Newshub.

A constant, that despite cultural barriers is bringing refugees from all over the world together, and through the doors of Hamilton's Yalla Yalla Cafe.

It's called Home Kitchen, and the concept is simple: migrants can cook and share a meal, make friends and get help finding a job.

"I felt that using a skill set such as cooking, it was an easy way to provide work and training opportunities, utilise a skill set, and again food bringing people together," said Ms Jones.

She was compelled to do something following the Syrian refugee crisis, and was inspired to create Home Kitchen after seeing a similar model while volunteering in Greece.

So she paired up with the team at Yalla Yalla, and wants to launch a pop-up restaurant there up to four nights a week, as well as cooking classes.

They'll both be enjoyed, and staffed, by refugees.

"There'll be jobs available within food and hospitality, but we're also looking at business and how do you manage a business."

Taj Hussaini is one of those finding comfort in the home kitchen concept, after fleeing Afghanistan due to family problems.

"I lived in New Zealand two years and 11 months, I like the kitchen and cooking," she said.

Food is her passion and she's dreaming big.

"I plan after two years three years, to open a restaurant," she said.

Something she hopes Home Kitchen will help her achieve when they properly launch in January.  But before then, they need to raise $30,000.

"Now that's Kickstarter funds for us to purchase things like food and fridges," said Ms Jones. 

Funds that will hopefully make sure the kitchen keeps on cooking.


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