KUALA LUMPUR, June 17 — These days, food delivery businesses are a dime-a-dozen. Some offer restaurant-quality meals while others capitalise on the latest health food trends — be it organic, gluten-free or even raw. But how many will offer their customers a chance to help out a refugee family?
Enter The Picha Project, a social enterprise supported by the MaGIC (Malaysia Accelerator Global Innovation Centre) Accelerator Programme, which delivers to customers traditional meals made by families from marginalised groups. The project aims to provide job opportunities to these families by creating a platform for them to cater food to the public.
The Picha Project was founded by psychology graduate Suzanne Ling, musician Kim Lim and former Le Meridien finance executive Lee Swee Lin. While none of them have a business background, they had previously worked together at Hands of Hope, a social project under UCSI University founded by Ling and Lim in 2014 to provide education assistance to children from the marginalised groups, including refugees.
Hands of Hope arranges for volunteers — up to 250 university students — to teach core subjects such as English and Maths to the children of the marginalised groups on a weekly basis. Ling said, “As we worked closely with them, we saw how they are struggling financially. Many of our students had to drop out of school and work at a young age to support their family. We wanted to do something for this community; hence, we started The Picha Project.”
The Picha Project differs from other social enterprises that also help marginalised communities as they utilise the existing cooking skills of several refugee families to create a food catering business. Lim says, “Our customers have a different kind of eating experience as they get to taste authentic traditional cuisine from different cultures and countries. We also have stories of the family who prepared the food on the meal box to create more social awareness of the issues they are facing. Customers get to have food and do good and at the same time.”
Currently, The Picha Project works with three different families from the refugee community — one from Myanmar and two from Syria. Burmese dishes such as beef stew and vegetables, as well as turmeric chicken and corn salad feel familiar yet have a unique flavour to them. Fattet Magdoos (eggplant casserole) and Yalanji (vegetarian stuffed grape leaves) are traditional must-try Syrian dishes.
Lee says, “All our cooks prepare their authentic traditional food from their homes and the Picha team will pack and deliver the food to the customers. We are also in the process of recruiting more families. We will be meeting a few more families from Palestine, Pakistan and Yemen soon.”
Some of the cooks are families that the founders were already in contact with through Hands of Hope. Others were referred to them by UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) or other NGOs. Ling explains, “We identify families who can cook and are in need of a job to make ends meet. Prior to recruiting the families, we visit them at their home to understand the overall situation in the family, which includes financial background, physical needs, education of their children, etc.”
The Picha Project aims to cultivate a culture where marginalised people can work and earn their own income, rather than simply offering them direct monetary aid. Lim says, “Even though they have a background that is disadvantageous for them, we believe that through empowerment and guidance, they are able to develop into individuals who can be self-sustainable with certain competencies. It is also important for them to be able to gain confidence and believe that they can actually do something with their life.”
Working with these families, the Picha Project team had many inspiring learning experiences. Lee recalls an anecdote shared by one of the families. “Last Ramadan, they were offered some money by a kind-hearted man. However, instead of receiving the money, the father turned down the offer as he came from a culture which believes that money should be earned with hard work. So many people think that these marginalised groups are most probably lazy and prefer receiving donation, food or money from others. However, that is not the truth.”
Indeed, many of them are more than willing to work hard for a better life for their families, if only they were given an opportunity — the sort The Picha Project is providing today.
Learn more about The Picha Project at www.facebook.com/pichaproject