They've been running Free to Feed, Melbourne pop-up cooking classes hosted by asylum seekers, refugees and new migrants since 2015. Before self-funding Free to Feed with her husband, Daniel, Loretta spent a decade in the humanitarian sector working with refugees and people seeking asylum.
Hosting Free to Feed classes offers an employment opportunity to people who are often rejected for not having local qualifications or experience. The classes also give them an introduction into their local community and a chance to build contacts and friendships through sharing their food, stories and identity.
"Our cooking instructors entrance us with their stories, their cuisines, the sheer drive to work and passion for food and their culture," Daniel tells SBS. "The success of the classes that they run are a great testament to them."
Breaking down barriers
Now to Launch is the next step in Daniel and Loretta’s commitment to breaking down cultural barriers and supporting the livelihoods of people seeking asylum, refugees and new migrants in Victoria.
“The lessons of Free to Feed inspired us to continue to deepen and strengthen the way we work with the community,” says Daniel.
He felt proud of the “quirky” differences his family seemed to have like sharing money rather than getting pocket money.
Daniel knows more than most the challenges people often face when arriving in Australia. His parents arrived as refugees from Uzbekistan in the late 1970s.
Growing up, he says he felt proud of the small, “quirky” differences his family seemed to have compared to other Australians. “Little things like sharing money rather than getting pocket money,” he recalls. “Or how my parents brought us into important decisions as equals.
“My friends used to joke that we had a “Communist” way of doing things, but actually it just felt like a refreshingly different perspective.”
The way Daniel’s perspective has manifested itself in Now to Launch is certainly refreshing. Together with Loretta, he has developed a program that will help asylum seekers, refugees and new migrants build a business in the food industry.
The program recently received a $250,000 LaunchVic grant and is already supporting 12 entrepreneurs from countries as diverse as Eritrea, Sudan, Venezuela, Iran, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Syria.
A diversity of entrepreneurs
Kha Re Mar is one of the entrepreneurs selected for the program. Kha Re is originally from Burma (Myanmar) and came to Australia in 2007 with the help of UNHCR, having spent a decade in a refugee camp in Thailand.
Kha Re opened the Free Burma catering service not long after arriving in Australia, serving Burmese curries and finger foods. Free Burma also offers training and experience to local Burmese community in waitering, cooking, business management and food service.
Entrepreneurs from countries as diverse as Eritrea, Sudan, Venezuela, Iran, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Syria.
With the help of Now to Launch, Kha Re and Sho Hai will grow the catering business by setting up a food truck, specialising in unique Burmese curries. Kha Re’s son, Sho Hai, helps his mother run the business and is currently studying Finance – one of the first members of the Burmese Australian community to attend university.
Also in the program is Nayran Tabiei, a cooking instructor at Free to Feed where she teaches a Syrian breakfast class. She arrived in Australia as a refugee and spent time on Christmas Island and other detention centres, before settling in Melbourne. Now to Launch will help her build her catering business, capitalising on her many years of experience running a busy restaurant in Damascus.
Powered by volunteers
Now to Launch relies on volunteers to provide skills and resources to individual entrepreneurs and the program as a whole. These include general business strategy and development, food specialists, educators, designers, financers and writers, but everyone has something useful to offer.
“We are fortunate to be living in a big-hearted and open-minded community here in Melbourne,” says Daneil. “We already have dozens of incredibly talented skilled volunteers from the community signing up to offer their support.”
Click here for more information on the Now to Launch program.