Syrian women in Coventry have produced a cookbook full of recipes and stories from their homeland to say thank you to the city for providing them safety.
Hosted by Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre (CRMC), ‘A Taste of Syria’ will be officially launched this Friday (30 November) at a celebratory event recognising the women and their new lives in the city. It starts at St Peter’s Centre in Hillfields from 7pm. Tickets cost £20 and can be purchased at EventBrite by searching for ‘A Taste of Syria.’
Hayat Alejrf arrived in Coventry with her husband and four children in 2015 as part of the city’s Integration Project* and her dish – Halawit Aljoben – is part of the cookbook. The Integration Project was set up in Coventry in 2014 between a number of local partners, and it assists newly arrived individuals and families so that they can rebuild their lives in their new home.
Hayat said: “When we first arrived in Coventry, we didn’t know anyone and it was very difficult to communicate with people as we all knew very little English.
“After a couple of months, we found out about a small community festival taking place nearby and decided to go along with some home cooked Syrian food. Everyone absolutely loved it and it really helped us settle into our new home.”
Following this and the successful Syrian dinner with CRMC in December 2016 – the community hosted a meal of Syrian food to raise money for people who were destitute in Coventry – an idea was formed to produce a cookbook of Syrian recipes and stories.
Mary Unsworth, Community Participation Officer at CRMC said: “After the success of these events, we spoke with the women at our women’s group – part of the Integration Project – about what they would like to do. Most of the women enjoyed cooking and so alongside West Midlands Police and Coventry City Council, the idea emerged to produce a cookbook of food from their homeland which could be shared with the community.”
Angelina also arrived in 2015 from a refugee camp in Lebanon after escaping Syria. Her recipe for a dish is in the cookbook. She said: “We all loved cooking, but had no idea had to produce a cookbook. With help from CRMC and others, they gave us the support to do this and it’s our way of saying thank you to the city for offering us safety.
“Also, some of us are still learning English so it can be difficult to communicate sometimes. With food, it is something everyone enjoys and so hopefully can help bring different people together.”
Those attending ‘A Taste of Syria’ will get to experience a delicious three course meal of food from the cookbook, prepared freshly by the Syrian community living in Coventry. A few of the women behind the book will also be telling their stories of adjusting to life in the city, and there will also be an opportunity to purchase a copy to take home.
Angelina said: “I love Coventry. Before I came here and because of everything that happened, I didn’t feel alive. Everyone is so friendly and I feel like only now, my life is starting from three years ago. This is my way of saying thank you and giving something back to the community.
“My dish is a traditional food from my village, that I used to cook every Friday with my mother and it is very nutritional and healthy. It is also very good for pregnant women or those who have just given birth as it has lots of vitamins and nutrients in it.”
Reem Doukmak, Community Participation Officer at CRMC said: “We would love to see people from across Coventry on Friday to celebrate the women’s achievements and contribution to the city. It also offers a great opportunity to reflect on the city’s proud history of offering sanctuary, and the wonderful things that happen when we do this.
“All funds raised from sales of the cookbook will be directly used to help CRMC continue it’s essential work welcoming and supporting refugees, asylum seekers and migrants to rebuild their lives and achieve their full potential.”
*About The Integration Project
The Integration Project was set up in Coventry in 2014 following the UK government launch of the Vulnerable Persons Programme and Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement scheme.
The project assists and empowers newly arrived individuals and families so that they can rebuild their lives in their new home, and it is a partnership between Coventry City Council, Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre, Coventry Citizen Advice, Central England Law Centre, Positive Youth Foundation, Church of Assisi and Foleshill Women Training Centre.
To date, Coventry has welcomed over 500 refugees on the programme, one of the best responses of any local authority in the country.