Refugees and migrants are often seen as a threat from people in 'receiving' countries. A threat to their way of life or culture, to their national security and stability or simply to their prosperity. Projects like Mazí Mas tell us a completely different story. A story about inspiring women, cultural integration and delicious food.
What is Mazi Mas?
Mazí Mas ('with us' in Greek) is a roaming restaurant that employes and trains refugee and migrant women in London. We first met these incredible women when they offered to cater our Fearless event, back in September.
The story of the project starts with a woman, Maria, who moved from Greece to the US after the military coup in 1967. Her dream was to open a bakery, but that never happened because her husband wouldn't allow it - "that's not what women do", he would say.
So Maria became a nanny instead, and started caring for a two-month-old baby girl, Niki, whose parents were also from Greece. Niki spent much of her childhood cooking with Maria. "I’d wake in the morning to the smell of garlic and oregano drifting through the door of the bedroom, and follow it into the kitchen to find her sitting at the small kitchen table, plastic tub propped on her lap, briskly peeling potatoes," Niki said.
When Niki moved to London in 2010, that passion for food and cooking followed her. Alone in a new big city, she started volunteering in community kitchens and met many women like Maria: migrant women who could not find work, or did not have the right to work, and had little support to help them find their feet in a new place.
Helping refugee and migrant women find their way
Mazí Mas was founded to make possible for other women what was not possible for Maria. The restaurant provides training programs that help women from all over the world translate their home-cooking skills into business skills.
The hope is to help reduce the exploitation that is common among women in migrant and refugee communities, and to improve independence by providing a source of income.
Food is, of course, central to this project. And what better way to learn about other cultures and make cultures meet than through food? "Food is very powerful in terms of social change, because it has that ability to bring people together", Niki said.
Their menus change depending on who's in the kitchen, and include flavours from all over the world (Brazil, Ethiopia, Senegal, Turkey, Nicaragua, Iran and Peru).
Earlier this week I had the chance to explore some of the magic combinations of flavours, textures and cultures at one of Mazí Mas' restaurant take-overs at LeCoq rotisserie in Islington. Every bite of the delicious Persian-Brazilian menu was a journey into a different story and the proof that cultural integration can produce incredible results.
The bigger picture
Mazí Mas shows us how creating opportunities for people from refugee and migrant backgrounds can truly change lives and tranform people's perspective of 'the other'.
Though the refugee crisis has dropped off the main news agenda, hundreds of thousands of people are still risking their lives every day to seek safety on European shores. Our humanitarian teams on the Greek island of Lesvos are supporting the most vulnerable groups, including children and pregnant women, by providing food, water and information to new arrivals.
Please consider supporting our emergency work and help change people's lives.
Photos: Mara Klein and LeCoq restaurant.