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Head-chef at Hooyo East, Traditional Somali Cuisine

Q: Please tell me about yourself.

A: My name is Zahra. I work for the Women’s Inclusive Team as a head-chef at the Hooyo East Enterprise, which offers Somali cuisine. I have 8 kids and 9 grandchildren. I have always have been a stay at home mother, but when the pandemic hit I started volunteering at WIT. At the time, the project had a food bank and I would do the cooking, which would be later distributed and delivered to the homes of vulnerable people in Tower Hamlets.

I wanted to give back because I realised that there were a lot of people in need. I initiated the Hooyo East Enterprise kitchen at the Mayfield day care centre with the help of the WIT team during the pandemic. We were initially set up to send out halal foods to families who were not using foodbanks because of worries about non-halal meats. We are operating on a non-profit basis where by all proceeds are invested back to fund our projects. Our work was recognised by The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

Q: What are your aspirations?

A: I want to transmit my passion for cooking. I would love to have my own cooking course to teach others. I enjoy making other people happy through my food. I also received good feedback for my cooking which is rewarding for me. For me helping people in need is one of the most rewarding things. I aspire to be a role model for other people and encourage the community to give back as this is the only way we can get stronger.

In my free time I like spending it with my family and socialising with friends.

Q: What do you like about Tower Hamlets?

A: I like the fact that the people don’t treat me like an outsider. I feel very welcomed by the Tower Hamlets community. I also enjoy the diversity of the borough, a lot of different people and cultures.

WIT have always been very supportive of me, from when I first started volunteering. I really appreciate the people I work with.

Q: What do you dislike about Tower Hamlets?

A: Like many mothers in the borough, I mostly worry about the children and young adults because of knife crimes.

Q: What is your message to the women in Tower Hamlets?

A: My message is directed mainly at the stay-at-home mums, I would like to say to them to come out and get involved in the community. I would like to encourage them to get training and seek work. I am saying this because of my own experience. Previously, I was a stay-at-home mum and I would spend most of my time with my kids. But volunteering has changed my life. I have become more confident after I started volunteering and now I have a job. Mixing with others has also boosted my self-esteem and helped me improve my English.

Q: And what is your message to Tower Hamlets council?

A: There are a lot of people in need within the borough. At WIT, I meet and see a lot of people who struggle. The Tower Hamlets Council should invest more funding to support those people and more funds need to be directed towards charities that support vulnerable people.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add that I have not asked you about?

A: During Ramadan, the Hooyo East will be giving away Iftar meals to care homes, vulnerable adults, families who are fasting, and families who lost loved ones that used to cook for them. The food parcels will be delivered by volunteers.

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