Local caterer provides delicious job training for newcomers
by Asha Siad
In the basement of an old church, a diverse group of women cook dishes from all over the world. The room is packed with ingredients and kitchen appliances that decorate the walls surrounding the women. As they speak casually in broken English to one another, the only common language between most of the group, they work briskly to meet their daily orders.
These women are a part of EthniCity Catering, a social business venture of the Centre for Newcomers in Calgary. It provides newcomers with Canadian work experience, which is something program participants like Jyoti Sharma value.
“Without (a) job you can’t survive,” said Sharma. Sharma came to Calgary from Nepal five months ago. While she is familiar with the food industry from prior experiences back home, she was still nervous about working in a foreign country.
“It is a different country from my country, and the language is also different, and the people are from different cultures,” Sharma said.
Many newcomers like Sharma face not only language barriers but also cultural ones,
“We’re trying to give them some Canadian work experience and we’re giving them a Canadian reference,” said program coordinator Linh Bui, “so that when they move on, apply for a job or go to school, they can tell their prospective employer, yes, I have worked in Canada, this is my reference.”
The program hires participants on a temporary basis for three months. In those three months they are kitchen helpers who learn essential workplace skills including basic number training, food safety and English language lessons through a weekly in-class session.
EthniCity specializes in dishes from the Mediterranean, East Asia, South Asia, North Africa, Latin America and Canada, making it one of the few local caterers producing such a variety of food. These multicultural menus include couscous, vegetable samosas, beef moussaka and chicken curry. While some of the dishes are relatively new to the women, for others it hits home and creates a sense of satisfaction.
“By cooking the food from my country to show to them, all I feel it is good, I am very proud,” said Sharma. Afaf Mohammed, a cook and mentor for the participants, has been with EthniCity Catering for four and a half years now. She said she has seen countless groups of women feeling afraid and confused at the beginning of the program and leaving more self-confident and happy. Mohammed also said that it’s very beautiful to watch when women from different countries, speaking a variety of languages while working together in the kitchen.
“When you see the staff and the women, you see it’s like flowers, because different flowers (are) different colours. The women: different countries, different ages, different languages,” said Mohammed. “Like flowers, always I say when we have the next batch coming, I say I saw another flower, different country, each flower (is a) country for me like China, like Nepal, Iraq, Philippines, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia.”
There are some misconceptions about newcomers in the workforce that both employers and the public hold, such as a lack of contribution to society, and Bui said it is something she wants to dispel.
“I want other employers to be more open to receiving newcomers because they do have skills and expertise to contribute,” said Bui.
“The whole purpose of the program is to empower the women and to get them integrated into the society and into the workforce.”