Lebanon, Syria
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Tasting A Sweeter Future: Cooking Workshop Empowers Refugees

Everyone knows that eating healthy is good for the body. But it turns out that cooking delicious food also has a vast positive impact on mental health, as 13 Syrian and four Lebanese women discovered through a pilot initiative that provides culinary training as a means to cope with depression, poverty, and the aftershocks of war. The result—a fledgling catering company with a rich menu of mouthwatering dishes—is good for everyone.

Co-sponsored by the UNHCR and Tawlet Restaurant in the Caritas Migrants Center in Beirut, the six-month workshop provided lessons in gourmet theory and practice, including hygiene techniques. The women flourished in the course, quickly inventing dozens of recipes, and making warm, familial friendships in the process. Their work culminated in a fixed menu called “Atayeb Zaman”, or “Old Time Goodies”, which they now cater throughout Beirut.

For the women, the difference between before and after the course was life-altering. From having “nothing to look forward to”, as one put it, they found a sense of purpose and of self. Participant Ibtissam told the UNHCR’s Dana Sleiman that the workshops gave her the feeling “that I existed.”

Kamal Mouzawak, Tawlet‘s owner, told CNN that through cooking women are “the keeper of tradition, of life, of health, of [their] family and society.” Plans are now underway, Sleiman adds, to replicate the project in Syria and other parts of Lebanon.

For more info – UNCHR article

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Jennifer MacKenzie

Poet, writer and teacher Jennifer MacKenzie grew up on Bloomcrest Dr. in Bloomfield Hills, MI, which inspired her to wonder about places with patterns other than floral. Following her education at Wesleyan University's College of Letters and the University of Iowa's Writers Workshop, she followed a zig-zag course that included a pilgrimage across the top of Spain and a long sojourn in Syria in pursuit of the language of Muhammad al-Maghout and Moudthaffar al-Nawwab. While in Damascus she completed the books of poems "Distant City" and "My Not-My Soldier" (forthcoming from Fence Books) and edited the magazine Syria Today. Her poems and essays can be found in numerous journals including the Kenyon Review online, Guernica, Quarterly West, and Lungfull. She currently lives in New York.

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