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SafarTas: Empowering Syrian Refugees and Giving their Communities a Taste of Syrian Culture

SafarTas tackles the lack of employment opportunities and contributes to increase self-sufficiency of Syrian refugees.

Photo of Munjireen Sifat
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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

SafarTas tackles the root causes of the challenges refugees face by providing opportunities for self-sufficiency through employment and support. Employment is difficult for this population due to language barriers, lack of formal U.S. education, and a lack of knowledge around U.S. standards. SafarTas combats these issues by establishing bridges and connecting to their current state. From the moment they arrive, our parent organization works with them directly to secure housing and ensure they have a structured support system to build a new life. The majority of this population faces hardships ranging from overall decreased quality of life to adverse mental health outcomes, which are due in part to the stress associated with unemployment, fear, and poverty. The idea behind SafarTas is simple. Refugees lack formal training but have brought with them the knowledge of cooking cultural dishes. By securing a commercial space for the company (established with licensure), we will be able to scale further, and refugees will have a consistent space to cook and innovate. SafarTas hires these refugees and provides a nurturing environment that allows personal development for English language acquisition, U.S. standards of service, and certification of culinary skills. Currently, this work is being run solely in the kitchens of volunteers (homes, commercial kitchens, etc.), limiting our ability to scale and the number of people we can employ. Pilot Results: We have employed 20+ refugee chefs, some who have gone on to start their own businesses and are now fully certified in culinary skills and licensed. We have served nearly 1000 guests with authentic Syrian at over 50 catered events. What's Next: Our main goal is to acquire a more substantial space dedicated to the culinary craft for this population. And to enhance and scale this model in order to further help the 200+ refugee families we have worked with in the past and the thousands of refugee families across the US.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

SafarTas focuses on helping Syrian refugees in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Syria has the largest forcibly displaced population in the world, with an estimated 12 million people forced to flee their homes due to violence, and war-torn environments. In DC metropolitan area there are over 1,000 Syrian refugees, yet there is little infrastructure to ease their transition. SafarTas aims to contribute to building this infrastructure and offer opportunities to positively impact their quality of life.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

On one side of the bridge are resettled Syrians, who overcome turmoil and are in a place of uncertainty. SafarTas increases their self-efficacy of working in a professional environment. On the other side of the bridge, are communities tasting new dishes of Syrian culture. Being part of a diverse community leads to empathetic and global oriented citizens. Having interactions with Syrians and their new communities can strengthen the process of adapting stability and help bring cultures together.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

SafarTas provides avenues for resettled individuals to create a healthy and successful life. Our goal is to provide them with the tools to live past survival mode. Upon resettlement, refugees face a social, institutional, economic difficulties, acculturation stress, and a loss of social support, identity, native language. At its base, SafarTas fulfills the basic needs of financial stability. Through financial stability, stress levels are lowered. They feel a higher purpose; that they are providing for their families and contributing to society. In other words, they feel a sense of belonging and dignity. Previous chefs working for SafarTas have moved on to start their own culinary businesses after learning from the team. It provides a social space between refugees while introducing them to the wider community. It is a combination of all factors that lead to a better overall quality of life for this vulnerable population.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Communities of both sides of the bridge will change as a result of SafarTas being able to expand. On the side of the refugees, positive change is seen in the result of the refugees after we have provided them with the opportunity to formally learn how to serve and prepare food to American standards. We will be able to give employment opportunities to more refugees if we secure a space rather than relying on volunteer homes, which is currently sporadic at best. Going past employment and financial stability, refugees will gain self-independence and enhance their skillsets. This helps them to become positive factors in the community, thus completing the bridge seamlessly. SafarTas is an employment opportunity through Mozaic, a non-profit organization geared toward aiding Syrian refugees. Mozaic’s mission statement is “give a helping hand to build a better community,” and SafarTas embodies this mission.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

The founder of Mozaic, Raghad Bushnaq, was checking in on one of the families who the organization had just helped to resettle. While she was there, she was urged to stay for lunch. Touched by the hospitality of the family, who had little, but was so willing to share, Mozaic’s founder stayed. She was floored by the amazing flavors and authenticity of the food. Raghad knew that this family was in dire use of a job. They had children that were relying on them. And so an idea was born in her head. Why not use their existing skills? She promptly took pictures of their food and posted it on the organization’s social media page. People began asking, who made this delicious food? This is where it started. With the help of Mozaic, SafarTas was started as a catering program. Currently, SafarTas relies on kitchens and vehicles of chefs and volunteers, and its full potential has not been realized. With the help of Building Bridges, we can take it a step further.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

We aim to offer services to everyone and anyone. Though the DC area is diverse only one restaurant identifies as a “Syrian” restaurant, yet the menu is standard Middle Eastern street food, not specific to Syria. We have been limited to offering our catering services due to our limited funding to offer chefs in terms of employment opportunities, we cook out of a residential kitchens, and we rely on personal vehicles for transportation of food. As such, it is hard to cook in large quantities. Despite this, we have been able to cater to a variety of events, from corporate lunches to weddings. We have also had partnerships with local churches, refugee organizations, American University, and many others. The feedback we receive from them is encouraging, and their willingness to offer support exemplifies the community we will be working in.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

SafarTas runs on a cycle of empowerment. The establishing organization, Mozaic, has worked to cultivate the respect of the community for the last three years. The community around Mozaic ensures that refugees receive training for English as a second language and the proper culinary certificates. SafarTas will provide refugees with additional jobs and training. These employees can go on to contribute to the community, thus empowering more people. For example, one of our chefs went on to open a food truck, and now has two more refugees working with him! They go on to make a change and open the space for us to hire more people who need financial help and training. We want to strengthen our ties to the community in the future by sourcing our ingredients from community gardens and local farms.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

Safartas is catering program that runs under the non-profit Mozaic. Mozaic will continue to aid in the development of SafarTas. Mozaic has developed strong relationships with other NGOs, community centers, schools and government agencies, who work in order to lay the groundwork for future’s communities. For example, our past partnerships, who have recurrently hired Safartas for small events include American University, KindWords (Non-profit), the Hibri Foundation, and Starbucks. All of these places have offered continued support by means of contracting SafarTas for future events.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Platform: Creating a community or market that facilitates interaction between users and resources

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Pilot: We have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users. The feasibility of an innovation is tested in a small-scale and real world application (i.e. 3-15% of the target population)

Group or Organization Name

Mozaic

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Mozaic is dedicated to providing refugees in the DMV area with the necessary support and tools to settle, adapt, and adjust to their lives here. A non-profit organization aimed at helping those in need, including women, children, and refugees, establish a base far from home, build communities and become self- sufficient. We are committed to creating opportunities that not only help them but also showcase their abilities and wealth of knowledge. By staying united, we continue to build our community. SafarTas was created in order to help recruit these chefs and identify a market for their special recipes. We decided to establish this business in the state of Virginia in order to recruit these chefs and help connect them to the open market while facilitating the opportunity for everyone to enjoy real authentic rich Syrian food. Mozaic is run mostly on donations. To bring SafarTas about as envisioned, we need a commercial kitchen space.

Website URL:

Safar-Tas: https://safar-tas.org/ Parent organization: mozaicdmv.org

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

United States

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Sterling, Virginia
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safartas locations (1).png

SafarTas has been able to serve over 50 different locations in the past 3 years, despite being based out of volunteers kitchens! Imagine the impact of access to a consistent kitchen could have.

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Photo of Ikong James
Team

Hello Munjireen Sifat thanks for sharing this idea its most intriguing on its view touch points and flawlessness. However is it possible to not only look at employing refugees but perhaps some americans too to have that mixmash where the refugees can add onto their skill by adopting american styles of cooking and teaching americans the syrian style of cooking. If i were, american i know i would want to learn how to cook syrian food like that for my family. That said i look forward to learning more in the improve stage. Good luck.

Best,
Ikong James 

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