Women Chefs Expanding Horizons
Alternative Community Trade In Vanuatu (ACTIV)- a Spotlight Initiative grantee – has kickstarted Aelan Mama’s Cuisine, a social enterprise training women in food preparation, menu planning, and the sustainable management of a small business.
During the training, 11 chefs learned more than just new culinary skills. They learned that knowledge means power, resilience and independence, and that it can lead to change and inspire women to become active leaders and role-models in their communities. Myriam Malo lives in Vanuatu, her journey to self-empowerment started from her kitchen at the central market of Port Vila, where she used to cook and sell food. With COVID-19 lockdown, Malo together with many other women like Emmy Siro, who was working in a hotel, ended up at home, with no other income. While uncertainty in the future of local businesses and tourism was ramping up, Malo and Siro together with other nine ni-Vanuatu women — some of which survivors of gender-based violence — had the opportunity to join a training organised by ACTIV to upgrade their food-preparation skills and learn more about food security, menu planning, finance and the sustainable management of a small business. Fast forward a few months and the newly graduated chefs opened Aelan Mama’s Cuisine — a new restaurant available also online at https://aelan.vu/store/ — which guarantees a job and a continued stream of income for the women and their families. Aelan Mama’s Cuisine marked the beginning of a new era for these female entrepreneurs. The impact of the training went way beyond the kitchen. It opened the eyes of women like Myriam and Emmy to new horizons, not only in the restaurant business but in understanding the power of knowledge and the opportunity it represents, opportunity that up to that time had been out of their reach. “While we were learning about food safety and finance management, we were so excited, we were in tears. We could all sense how this would have changed our lives forever,” said Siro, a new chef of Aelan Mama’s cuisine team.
The training gave women the means to reclaim their agency and become more independent in taking decisions and managing finance, and voicing their needs for more learning opportunities to emancipate other women, especially those living in remote and rural areas of Vanuatu. “We need to help all the mamas get some training” said Malo, a community leader and chef of Aelan Mama’s cuisine team, “together we need to join forces to demand more learning opportunities for women and girls,” she added.
The training blazed new trails to the new chefs and their communities, in a country where the combination of discriminatory attitudes and violence against women hinders women’s full and free participation in education, employment and public life. Malo has become a champion in her own community, leading change in the group of women in her village, working alongside the community chief and the committees in the village. She is now getting involved with the Youth Council of 21 Jump Street working on an awareness raising and knowledge-sharing project to sensitise young people about the impact of processed and imported food, on their health, the environment, and the local economy and livelihood. “When it comes to food and nutrition, we need to go back to our roots, and I mean it literally.” said Malo. “What we eat impacts our health, the environment, our culture, and the local economy and livelihood.”
She stressed that there is an urgent need to sensitise young generations towards the use of locally sourced food and traditional cooking. “The training granted permission to all the women to dream bigger and broader, especially when it comes to their rights to learn new skills and participate in the community,” said Sandrine Wallez, president of ACTIV.
The group of women chefs — now agents of change — is now thinking of new strategies to create more learning opportunities, not only in food preparation but also sewing, weaving and the creation of artefacts to empower more women. “We tasted what it feels like to be in the driving seat and take decisions that influence our lives and that of our community, that was the real revolution, there is no going back”, added Malo, who is now considering running for the municipal elections in Port-Vila to ensure women’s requests are heard and acted upon. “All the women need to know the basics of food safety, food preparation and finance. We need to reach all the women, we need to sit around the table where the decisions are made to channel the resources needed for women and girls’ training,” she concluded