A co-founder and coordinator at Kuchnia Konfliktu. It is something more than just a place which specialises in meatless cuisine. It is a federation employing refugees. Dining in Wilcza Street we can help them stand on their own feet here in Poland. Let’s see what else we can do.
How did you come up with the idea of Kuchnia Konfliktu?
– First, there were travels. When I turned 18 years old I embarked on a hitchhiking journey with my friend across Europe. Then there was the Caucasus, the Balkans, and a year in South-East Asia, Birma, in the Philippines. For some time I used to live in a squat in Bangkok.
It shaped me – I noticed diversity, social injustice, women discrimination, the aftermath of armed conflicts. Upon my arrival, I already knew I wanted to do something with people. I wasn’t interested in working at large organisations, which lean over poor and socially excluded people, not including them in the process. My former partner had roots in Ukraine. It was a time of exacerbation of military actions. I remember the feeling of frustration and helplessness. We didn’t know what we could do.
I know this feeling as well.
– For my MA thesis, I collected testimonies of the Syrian refugees. I talked with them about their war experiences. I learnt also about the problems they face in Poland – mostly with finding a job and a flat. Hence, the idea of cooking and social entrepreneurship model. I wanted to create space where they can regain their sense of self-esteem, control over their lives. I see that they are extremely satisfied when they can offer something from themselves. Sometimes half a year is sufficient for them to move on, find a job suited to their abilities.
Were there many such types of stories?
– Nastia from Donbass works today at the temporary employment agency. Mohammed – a journalist from Tajikistan – decided to establish his own Tajik foundation and an independent TV channel for Central Asia. Hamza from Algeria became a translator from Arabic. There was once Soran, who wasn’t granted residence. Despite the fact that he speaks fluent English and is an IT expert, he couldn’t start legal work in Poland. He had to come back to Iraq. We can observe a growing number of refugees from Chechnya and Tajikistan.
How does their situation in Poland look like?
– Bad. We have the worst system of supporting foreigners and refugees in the whole Europe. In fact, there is no system at all. For a short time, people get minimal financial support, which is not sufficient even for renting a room in Warsaw. They don’t have any buffer interval during which they could become independent, learn a language, find a job. From what I see they are left with almost no support. They have a strong sense of isolation, loneliness, exclusion. There are some refugees who have been living in Poland for three years now and they don’t know any Pole.
How can we change it? How to connect these two worlds?
– There are a lot of foreigners, who would like to work with us. Unfortunately, we cannot respond to all these needs. Kuchnia Konfliktu is not a system solution, but only an example to show how integration can look like. I encourage you to establish such initiatives and to hire refugees.
It is worth creating such a network, where refugees with needs could meet with the locals who could offer work, help in finding a flat, give legal advice. There is still room for improvement. Let’s keep in touch and do it together.
Interview: Agnieszka Kowalska
Photos: Aga Bilska