While constantly seeing news of refugees fleeing war and struggling for a chance of a decent life in Europe, one cannot help but wonder ai???Is there anything that I as an ai???ordinaryai??? citizen can do about it?ai???. A group of activists from Croatia has a great answer to that question. Gathered around the initiative called ai???Taste of homeai??? they have found the perfect recipe for integrating refugees and turning local communities into genuine melting pots (fortunately it is not the only such initiative in Europe). To get an insight into this engaging story of citizenship in action, YO!Mag spoke to Emina BuA?inkiAi??, an activist with Centre for Peace Studies and the president of the ai???Taste of Homeai??? association.
- There seems to be something really good cooking in Croatia. And weai??i??re not just talking in metaphors here. Tell us a bit about Taste of Home: how did this idea come to life?
Taste of Home is a culinary-cultural-research project that introduces the culture, customs and societies of origin of the refugees in Croatia by recording their memories of home, smells and tastes of their cuisine. This is an experiment in sharing life stories and culinary skills between refugees and people from Croatia. At the moment it gathers 30 refugees and volunteers in Croatia and is primarily supported by the Centre for Peace Studies.
Taste of Home has been recorded over several years. For over ten years we have met people in search of safety and happiness, people in search of home. By preparing recipes from their homes, refugees are evoking memories and creating new experiences in their new home. Our vision is a colourful world embraced in hospitality. Our mission underlines economic emancipation of refugees and people with migrant backgrounds through culinary and cultural exchange. We are led by values of appreciating human beings and their needs – human beings in search of happiness and safety ready to offer their best ai??i?? tastes of their childhood and youth as well as tastes of their adulthood in a new society. Our resources are tastes of middle-eastern, Arabic, African and Asian cuisine that are rather underrepresented in Zagreb.
- To what extent would you say this project contributes to the integration of refugees in Croatia?
Taste of Home is a good example of integration since its inner beat is solidarity and support on a deeply friendly basis. This project contributes to people’s integration since it pays attention to their backgrounds, needs, skills, ambitions and interests, wishes and desires. It is a space of personal and collective development. It also empowers refugees and migrants and for some of them it has been the place of their first employment or skills gaining in Croatia.
- And what about the local community? What was their reaction to ai???Taste of Homeai????
We were nicely surprised by the response of local communities in Croatia. Despite there being communities burdened with prejudices against refugees and migrants, we had the most success in those particular communities when we would show up with our show kitchen events, food tasting, cooking workshops and talking sessions. After local residents of the Dugave neighborhood in Zagreb initiated a petition for the removal of the Asylum Seekers Centre there, we showed up with a cooking event on 1st May offering traditional bean stew for the occasion. There were traditional beans from seven countries of origin of refugees. At that event more than 200 local inhabitants came to talk with us. That was an eye-opener for all of us.
- A documentary film about Taste of Home was shown at South East European Film Festival in LA this month. What were the reactions to this film? Do you think that documentaries like that can encourage citizensai??i?? involvement?
The documentary movie, which was marvelously done by the author Martina GloboA?nik and co-produced by Fade In and Centre for Peace Studies, is an ethnographic portrait of two refugees searching for safety and happiness in Croatia. The movie is very emotional and it changes the way we often see refugees. It brings more of a human perspective and makes us put ourselves in the shoes of those lost in translation and the new world they are part of. The reaction of the public has been very positive and moving and it definitely encourages citizens to get involved.
- What are the next steps for Taste of Home?
Taste of Home happily started its catering business few months ago. Soon we will kick off our line of food products and in Autumn we are starting language courses of Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Albanian. Our excitement is growing together with our ideas and proactivity in opening the floor for intercultural exchange in Croatia. We are also a part of a cultural platform advocating for the establishment of an intercultural social centre.
- How big of an impact do you think that citizensai??i?? initiatives like this one have on solving the refugee crisis in Europe? And how much do you think it is the responsibility of ai???ordinaryai??? citizens to react to the crisis?
I would absolutely underline that the future of our societies primarily depends on how citizens perceive our realities, how they react and what they proactively do. It is pretty much clear that political solutions introduced are not mature and adequate. The political sphere has been serving us distorted narratives such as the one on the EU refugee crisis, where its own approach consists of restrictions on the asylum system, which actually reflects a crisis of political response. On the other hand, citizens have shown solidarity and more maturity in responding to the flow of refugees and their needs. Projects like Taste of Home are examples of solidarity and there are many such projects around the globe. We need more state-provided and globally-provided support to expand or to initiate new projects that would embrace much larger numbers of people in need.