Earlier this month we took part in Refugee Week, an annual festival of cultural events and activities, celebrating the contribution of refugees. Like many other national events, Refugee Week this year was adapted to take place entirely online, which to me felt like quite a challenging way to celebrate this usually very lively and colourful festival of creativity. I for one was feeling quite down and disappointed about not being able to share this event with our refugee friends and my colleagues in person.
At JRS we have all tried hard over the last few months to think about ways we can move some of our own refugee activities to a virtual space, while still making sure they were fun and open for all to take part. Many of our refugee friends suffer mental and physical effects of isolation in precarious living situations, and there is often little joy or well-being to be found in their surroundings.
For me, one of the most uplifting activities which took place at JRS for Refugee Week, was the cooking of our Refugee Week recipe. Several of our refugee friends who attend our weekly Community Kitchen worked with staff and volunteers to create a simple and tasty spinach and lentil curry recipe which could be cooked by anyone, in any kitchen anywhere (so long as they had the right ingredients!). It was such a pleasure to invite our refugee friends, volunteers, supporters and staff to check out the recipe and cook their own creations at home. We sent our refugee friends a small hardship grant in order to buy the fresh ingredients, and invited them to take photos or videos of their cooking. The following week, a virtual Zoom meeting was held for our refugee friends, volunteers, supporters and staff – old and new – to join together and share these photos and videos, as well as catch up and discuss their love of food.
Our Refugee Activities Coordinator Dallya, who facilitates the JRS community kitchen did such a fantastic job of encouraging everyone to take part, whatever their cooking skill level. Nearly 20 people joined our call which was a wonderful turnout! She described the Zoom call to me afterwards:
“I was so excited to gather everyone together and share the wonderful recipes they had made over Zoom. Lots of our friends who would usually attend the JRS community kitchen have, during lockdown, really missed the opportunity to meet up with each other, and share, cook and taste their own dishes from all over the world. This refugee week recipe was a great way for all of us to unite and do something joyful- far away but still together in our own homes. Some of the people who cooked were really very creative and added extra ingredients such as sweet potato, fried chicken or extra chilli, while others really stepped out of their comfort zone cooking this type of curry for the first time. It made me so happy and grateful to see everyone’s smiles on the Zoom call when they shared their meal. And when they saw our special guest Matilda, (who used to facilitate the JRS Community Kitchen at JRS before me) join us all the way from the Netherlands, they were absolutely ecstatic”
I think we have all missed the usual laughs and banter that were so commonplace around our centre prior to lockdown, especially in the lively weekly community kitchen group. To carve out some time to create something together, eat it and share it with each other sounds so simple, yet it feels so powerful in these uncertain times. It’s been really clear to me how during Refugee Week, and beyond, food can be nourishing not just for the body but also for the soul. After all, they do say that food is the best medicine!
Take a look at some of the final curries cooked during Refugee Week and beyond in our gallery below…
Joanna Biernat is Communications Editorial Assistant at JRS UK.