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When You Need It, You Find It

It was not easy to start in Oxford. I been in the country six and a half years as refugee. But when I came to the UK, I came with education background, I worked for Danish Refugee Council big salary, all these nice things, and suddenly I find myself here. I was supporting refugees and I've been a refugee. It was very hard.

I was angry with my husband. ‘It’s because of you we’re here,’ and all this stuff. But after one month, my husband talked to me and said, look, you're strong woman, and you can start it again. I believe in you. I was also talking to my dad every day and he say, look, you need to start your life again. Some women need you and some people need you more than you are in need. I start from there for Connection. I said to them, you're helping Syrian refugee coming here, and I have bit of English, and I speak fluent in Arabic and Kurdish, I come to support them.

We needed a safe space for us. Because these people were really isolated, and they didn't know how to speak with their neighbour. So we started Syrian Sisters. It was huge success. It made people feel safe enough that they could tell their story. We from a different city, in Syria, we have a different culture, we bring food with us, and they are proud when they bring food. Always my aim with Syrian Sisters was for the community to be part of Oxford community, which is why we start to make very strong partnerships with different organisation, and a strong network. I always proud of it.

We share our experience with people, and we are always open to anyone, which has given us strength. We've been also popular with our lunch meal, but we never charge by the way. We will make a Christmas party, big lunch, and everyone will invite everyone who supports us. We had a huge amount of people. And we find that people are amazed by our food. And our ladies, they have that amazing skill, the way they present the food, all this healthy vegetarian food. I always wanted to make something for them, they needed to be using these skills.

I remember before lockdown, coming to Flo’s, and they said, no harm, if you want some support, we ready, we new, but we can help. I was looking at what kind of support they can give us. Flo’s say, we have some money to support us and the enterprise, and we help your work. That’s how we started as a social enterprise, thanks to Flo’s. Without them, I don't think we would have started. I always say to people, we don't need you to represent us, but we need your support when we start. Just give us this push. And Flo's gave us that push. And they still around. If anything goes wrong, I'm contacting them again. We started with them. And it has been very successful story.

In the early beginnings with Flo’s, we set up Damascus Rose Kitchen. We had some money to support this social enterprise and I say, okay, I need to go back to my ladies to see their interest. Because they're young and they know life here is very costly and all this stuff, they were very keen about starting business. We make a committee, and we come to Flo's. And from Flo's committee, we meet and discuss some rules, who doing what. Because we're not a business, and we not from the country, we didn't know how to do the business, we didn't know how to write our business plan, all this stuff. Flo’s helped with that, but we write our own menu, we test our food, and we start contacting our network to advertise. Flo’s did the boring thing, and we did the fun stuff. We was learning from Flo's how to do all this stuff, because they can't do it forever for us.

Flo’s trained some of our ladies because they are good cooks, but they don't have experience or certificates of hygiene. Flo's employed two of us to be trained there. Then we move from Florence Park to The Old Fire Station and we've trained up lots of people through Damascus Rose Kitchen. I always tell my ladies, when you feel confident and you find you have better job than this, please tell me and move. You don't need to be stuck in here. You need to move. This is like a training base.

One big change for us was Damascus Rose Kitchen going from a community group to a social enterprise. With social enterprise, we didn't have any experience. Most business in Syria are private business, limited company. So this was very big change for us, and we always wanted to do something like this because we don't want to rely on the funds and all this stuff. We wanted to do it. But we didn't know how to start. I always tell my husband, without Flo's, we couldn't start it. Flo's encouraged us and supported us in the beginning, they did all this paperwork, it was very significant. And also, we didn’t have the money to buy new equipment. This money was also very important. And for the city council, this kitchen been empty for ages, and we make it very useful. We haven't had a problem with that, we always feel like a partner. Even The Guardian wrote about us, and we got a lot of catering from The Guardian. Very fancy people come to us, you become a good brand. Not just only community food. Lady from Banbury, very posh lady. We are catering for her wedding. But we will never stop the community food, never.

As a result of all this, I feel more confidence. I feel like now I can challenge some English people who are speaking about refugees or I can help those who want to help refugees and don't know how. I feel more confident to say what needs to be done, because some people didn't have experience of working with refugees. They were ignoring me, hating me to be honest, but we now much, much better. Their reaction is different now. I can defend my community. I'm more strong and I can challenge. I can go to city council saying, blah, blah, blah happening and shouldn't happen.

My ladies, they are more confidence too. If something happens, they can easily saying what's happening. Sometimes if they bullied by the neighbourhood and all this stuff they didn't want to speak about it because they feel like they will make a problem. But now they're very confident. Anything happen at school or on the street, they will come and say and speak about it with their support worker or with me, or with different people. We all getting better, we all getting more confidence, feeling more home. We're not happy, but we feel safe, we feel home, but not happy. You know, our country has been destroyed and we’ve had to leave. But main thing though our children are happy, they feel home. I do have some concern about some families, but not a lot. They have this gap between children and family because of language and culture and education. Some of them they don't come like for two months, and suddenly they appeared. And they say, we really miss this. We miss here. We've been very busy. But we miss here. It's like a space, when you need it, you find it. Like a warm space, people understand what you saying, and feel supported.

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