Sunday, 01 July 2018 04:00

Syrian family shares food culture with community

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Khadra Alrahhal and Sammy Khalife prepare food for customers at Khadra's Table on Market Square. Khadra Alrahhal and Sammy Khalife prepare food for customers at Khadra's Table on Market Square. Matthew Liebenberg/Prairie Post

A family who came to Swift Current two years ago as refugees from Syria has started their own catering business to introduce authentic Middle Eastern cuisine to local food lovers.


The City of Swift Current issued the new business license to Khadra's Table and Catering on June 20, which coincidentally is also the annual date for the commemoration of World Refugee Day.
The Alrahhal family arrived in Swift Current in July 2016 under a federal program that matches refugees with private sponsors in Canada.
The Swift Current and Area Ministerial Association (SCAMA) Refugee Committee provided financial support under this program during the family's first year of settlement. The business is part of the family's efforts to settle in the community.
“The idea is to be with the community,” said 20-year-old Yousef, who came up with the idea for the business. “It’s really important that we become integrated and be a part of the community.”
The family is happy to share their food traditions with anyone who visit them at their home, and people always enjoy the food. He therefore thought they should use the opportunity to introduce Middle Eastern cuisine locally while at the same time earning an income.
The business is named after Yousef's mother, Khadra, who is responsible for creating the recipes and making the food.
“It’s part of our culture to keep feeding people,” she said. “So to do something that you enjoy and make money is a positive thing. The other thing is the emotional support. So when you introduce people to certain types of food and they like it and they enjoy it and come back, it gives you the empowerment to say they really want that food, I can do it, and they like it. I’m doing something right, and something is being successful.”
The business originally started as a food table, known as Khadra's Table, at last year's Market Square. People were still asking for her food after Market Square was over at the end of the summer.
She then started to cook out of a certified kitchen to prepare pre-ordered meals for clients and to do catering orders.
The family was back at Market Square when it opened for the 2018 season on June 16, and they sold out.
“It’s great and it’s not the first time that happened,” she said. “There are times that we make specials and we get sold out, but at Market Square that was the first time that we sold out. ... I felt bad for the people that we had to turn away after we were out of food, but we also didn’t expect to be busy from the minute they rang that bell at 9:30 until we got sold out. We didn’t expect people would be lining up and waiting for us to open, and we also didn’t expect most of the people get a falafel wrap or a sandwich and they come back for the second one the same day. So it was a really good feeling.”
Khadra's Table and Catering will be at Market Square for the rest of the summer, with the exception of the Frontier Days weekend. The family will have a food booth at the fair ground at Kinetic Exhibition Park from June 28 to July 1.
Yousef noted that the business has an importance for the family that goes beyond the income. It gives them a sense of empowerment and it helps family members to improve the English language skills when they interact with customers.
“It feels good when people see you work and they see that’s the family that they donated money to bring,” he said. “Now they’re working and contributing back to the community.”
They appreciate it when people are welcoming and they want to be involved in the community. After the Humboldt Broncos bus crash they held a falafel wrap fundraiser on April 14 and donated the proceeds to the Humboldt Broncos fund.
He feels it made a real difference to the family to come to Canada through the private sponsorship program. The SCAMA Refugee Committee gave them support and also helped them to get their business going.
“The community and Swift Current overall have been amazingly supportive in anything that has to do with our family, including when our family member is sick or in the hospital,” he said. “You see members of the community visiting us and checking on us. It helped us a lot that we came part of SCAMA, which is many churches, and we visited many churches and people know us. ...  If SCAMA didn’t give us that opportunity to start the business, we probably would not be able to do it. It all comes back to the community being supportive. If the community did not decide to support us, we wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Sammy Khalife, the health coordinator and vice chair of the SCAMA Refugee Committee, said the group's goal is not just to bring refugees to the community.
“Our goal is to stand by them until they become an economic contributor to our community, and that’s exactly what we did with the Alrahhal family,” he emphasized. “We stood by them the first year when they needed help, but we made sure those with employable skills are working. ... Those who are not working, their job is to go to school full-time and learn English so they become employable. We feel we’ve reached our goal. That’s exactly what we’re supposed to do. We’re not just supposed to bring them here and let them figure it out on their own.”
The intention of the SCAMA Refugee Committee is to continue their efforts to provide refugee families with a new future in Swift Current. The group recently approved a plan to sponsor a refugee family every year for the next three years.
“That’s a big commitment,” he said. “Some may question how we can commit to that. We’re only able to commit to that because we know we’re ready and we have the right community and the right support.”
At a recent council meeting the City of Swift Current proclaimed the week of July 1-7 as Refugee Awareness Week in the city. This proclamation was requested by the Southwest Newcomer Welcome Centre and the SCAMA Refugee Committee to make residents more aware of the plight of refugees as well as the presence of refugees in the city.
Various activities will take place in the city around this time to raise this awareness. The SCAMA Refugee Committee will be meeting with elected officials to discuss issues of refugee settlement.
There will be an open house with a display on refugees at the Southwest Newcomer Welcome Centre from July 3-6, and a refugee awareness presentation will take place during Market Square on July 14.

Read 289 times Last modified on Tuesday, 03 July 2018 22:08
Matthew Liebenberg

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