You may know what falafel is, but have you heard of kubba or mandi?
If not, you’re in luck thanks to three University of Lethbridge students and their idea to help newly immigrated women in the city.
Abed Mouslli, Ammar Shahid and Deema Abushaban hope their catering service, Jeeran 55 – Syrian Kitchen, will help women experiencing cultural and language barriers to find employment in Lethbridge.
“We were looking at the most marginalized segment of our society, so newcomers,” Mouslli says. “If you narrow it down again, newcomer women are having more difficulties than newcomer men. Most newcomer men now, they are [already] working.”
Mouslli and Abushaban work as interpreters for Lethbridge Family Services and have been in touch with many women within the Syrian community.
“Most of them are very talented cooks,” Mouslli says. “Plus… in the Lethbridge market, there are no Arabic restaurants. There is no representation of this culture, so we were just thinking, ‘Oh, we can actually do something and bridge that gap, connect these skilled women and provide them with employment and empowerment opportunities.'”
The catering service’s name has a special meaning. Jeeran is an Arabic word meaning neighbour and 55 refers to the 55 Syrian families who called Lethbridge home when the idea was first conceived.
Alyaa Allaham is one of the cooks who will help launch Jeeraan 55. Right now, she is the only cook with the team but she hopes the service will be a hit.
“I love to cook and I want everyone to try Syrian cooking and to know that it’s very delicious,” Allaham says in Arabic, with Abushaban translating her words to English.
To help get the company off the ground, the team is looking for community support.
“Hopefully we will reach our goal for the crowdfunding campaign, which is $15,000, and that money will be used for towards starting up the company,” Abushaban says. Whether it be buying new equipment, getting the kitchen set up [or] training the cooks, who we hope to train to become chefs. So pretty much just startup money.”
The crowdfunding campaign is running until Aug. 15 and the team is already at 30 per cent of its goal.
Abushaban says the group was surprised by how welcoming residents in Lethbridge have already been.
“We have spread the word via our own social media [accounts] and we created one specifically for Jeeran 55 as well,” Abushaban says. “[As for] the feedback, we were a little afraid because it’s very different for a town as small as Lethbridge and as conservative as Lethbridge. But the community has been very, very accepting, all feedback has been positive.
“We actually haven’t had any negative feedback, and the positive feedback is not only from the Arab and Muslim communities, which we did expect and wanted, but it’s also from the larger Lethbridge communities.”
The business will be run out of an industrial kitchen and the menu will include main dishes, sides, salads, dips, and desserts.
Jeeran 55 will provide delivery service and offer catering to large groups.
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