PETALING JAYA, Nov 8 ― It is often said that food is the best way to learn about a foreign culture.
At The Picha Project, the saying certainly holds true as co-founders Suzanne Ling, Kim Lim and Lee Swee Lin dedicate their passion towards changing perceptions about Malaysia’s growing refugee community one dish at a time.
The social enterprise was set up three years ago when the trio wanted to find a more sustainable solution to the refugee issue by setting up a platform that connects refugee chefs with clients.
Through their online food delivery and catering business, The Picha Project has since served 80,000 meals and counting with 50 per cent of earnings channelled back to the 11 families who provide the meals.
“The refugee issue is a huge humanitarian crisis around the world and it’s important for us to raise more awareness and create understanding through a creative and innovative way ― food is the perfect way to create bonds and introduce culture and stories to the public.
“All our chefs cook traditional meals, tweaked to Malaysian liking and each meal comes with the chef’s story,” Ling told Malay Mail.
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Taking their cause out of the kitchen, The Picha Project are also participating in Urbanscapes where an immersive exhibition will put visitors in the shoes of a refugee in hopes of fostering empathy for a vulnerable community.
“We believe that Kuala Lumpur is not just made up of Malaysians, we are a diverse city where there are refugees, migrants. This not just our home but it has also become their home,” she said.
This is Home opened its door last Saturday and more than 2,300 people have visited the exhibition.
The three-part exhibition consists of recreated homes from the refugees’ original home such as Syria, Afghanistan and Myanmar before the war broke out, their journey to Kuala Lumpur which is told through comics and a VR experience showcasing what their current homes in Malaysia look like.
The Picha Project collaborated with Dignity for Children, E-lluminate and Earth for the first-of-its-kind exhibition, sponsored by Think City.
There will also be activities carried out by refugees and pop-up kiosks selling food and handmade jewellery.
“The whole exhibition has a very strong story and whatever purchase you take home will make a huge impact in the community,” Ling said.
She added that This is Home is the perfect starting point for members of the public who are not in the know to help them understand their plight from a uniquely personal perspective.
“A lot of people are not aware and even if Malaysians are aware, they think the problem doesn’t affect them and don’t know that there are refugees here in Kuala Lumpur.
“We are at a stage where more understanding is required. To give refugees the rights they deserve, it must start from understanding their journey because the whole stereotype of ‘They are here to steal our jobs’ is not true,” said Ling.
Given Malaysia’s poor track record of its treatment of asylum seekers, Ling said effective policy change can only take place if the public understands the problem from the ground level.
“We strongly believe it’s not all the government’s responsibility which is why we started The Picha Project. Even if the policy changes today, a lot of Malaysians won’t be happy.
“You can expect questions like ‘Why do you let refugees go to school?’ and ‘Why do you let them work?’. If the understanding is not there from the grassroots, there’s no point changing the policy because people will get upset,” explained Ling.
On a macro level, Ling said she hopes to see policymaking that will allow refugees the basic right to earn a living.
“We need to start thinking about how they can contribute to the growth of our economy instead of thinking they will steal our jobs,” she said.
Catch This is Home from now until November 18, 10am to 10pm at Urbanscapes House, 2 Jalan Hang Kasturi, Kuala Lumpur. Admission is free.
Malay Mail is the official media partner for creative arts festival Urbanscapes 2018, happening from November 3 to 18 across several venues in Kuala Lumpur.
For more information, head to urbanscapes.com.my