Last updated: May 15, 2012 4:57 pm
SFU's Fusion Kitchen employs immigrant women as teachers
Cooking class series created by SFU students seeks to help women develop job skills and share their recipes
BURNABY (CUP) — Back home in Pakistan, Shahnaz Asfar had been running a kindergarten for students who came from low-income families for over five years. Six months ago, she left the school in the hands of one of her trusted teachers, packed up her belongings, and moved to Vancouver to be closer to her two sons.
Asfar had taught in Pakistan for over two decades, but her prior experience and certification were not recognized in Canada. Towards the end of her Early Childhood Education and Montessori courses, a friend who worked for Immigrant Services mentioned Fusion Kitchen to her, a new social start-up that was looking to employ immigrant women to teach cooking classes on their own culture’s cuisines.
“Fusion Kitchen is a platform for these women to develop transferable skills, self-confidence, and have an opportunity to gain Canadian work experience,” said Chantelle Buffie, co-founder of the venture.
The first class, which was held on May 4, was sold out with an attendance of about 18 people. Participants split up into smaller groups and learned the recipes under Asfar’s direction. “People really enjoyed learning how to cook from an actual person from the actual culture, rather than some professional chef,” said Buffie.
“I love cooking very much, and I wanted to share my recipes,” said Asfar, who is now 60 years old, adding that she enjoyed teaching kindergarteners as much as adult students in the class.
Buffie met Sonam Swarup through Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) SFU, a business club on campus with an entrepreneurial spirit. Both held executive positions on SIFE for the past year, but Fusion Kitchen is a separate project, brainstormed during a social entrepreneurship class.
Picking the demographic to help was the difficult part. At first, they considered targeting immigrant women who had come from a past of domestic abuse, but then broadened their scope to include all immigrant women because of complications surrounding the women’s situations. Both Buffie and Swarup are first-generation Canadians, so immigrant women seemed like the natural choice.
The two women received $1000 in start-up funds from SFU's Beedie School of Business as part of a competition in the class, and also got a grant from Ashoka Youth Venture. Neither Buffie nor Swarup keep any money made from the class fees, which were $65 per person for Asfar’s class. Both students juggle this on top of work and their other extra-curricular activities.
Once the cooking classes finds steady legs, they would look into having external individuals to come in and teach certain skills to the women, such as the logistics of running a class, said Buffie. As one of their first teachers, Asfar will continue to act as a peer mentor to other women who will come to teach some of the classes.
“Come hungry, come curious”, advised Buffie on Fusion Kitchen classes in a blog post.