We recently connected with Cuisine sans frontières (Kitchen without borders), a small NGO from Switzerland that worked with and still works together with Mariam and her team. They are currently supporting one of the trainings for the women of Soufra, so we wanted to learn more about their work and mission. Read their interview below!
How did Cuisine sans frontières get started? What was the inspiration? Why food?
Cuisine sans frontières (Csf) was founded in 2005 thanks to David Höner. He’s a Swiss chef, journalist and professional dancer who has lived in Ecuador since 1995. In 2003 he wrote a book in which he described the idea of a group of chefs who go build restaurants in places where there are no more restaurants. A friend of David who read the book told him, that she would help him if he realized this idea. And so he did.
We are convinced that eating together, sharing a meal, is something that happens all over the world, in all different cultures and it is crucial for social relations among a community, family, village etc. Since hte restaurant is the place where this sharing of a meal happens, Csf started building restaurants where they had disappeared due to war, poor living conditions, natural disasters, etc.
What we do can also be described as below:
At Cuisine sans frontières we ask people to the table to resolve conflicts and to foster a community spirit. Cooking and eating together improves our quality of life: conversations take place, relationships are built and problems solved, thereby strengthening the foundations of every community. These everyday experiences form the foundation of Cuisine sans frontières’ activities.
Csf builds gastronomic meeting places and training facilities in areas of (social) conflict, always in cooperation with a local partnering organization. Our goal is at all times to secure the long-term independent economic sustainability of the projects.
How have you grown since you’ve started? Has anything surprised you in the way that the organization has changed since its inception?
Csf started in 2005 when the association was founded by three people (David and two friends). Now we are still a small organization (compared to the big relief organizations like Unicef, MSF etc.) but we have grown substantially and have realized more than 10 projects worldwide. Of course, our organization has since then developed and certain structures had to be installed, but we still get the feedback that our work is very direct, personal and effective - which is what convinces people to support us - because they see directly what we do with the money they donate.
In the last few years we have realized that education is a very important aspect to maintain our projects and our idea on a longterm basis. We therefore have strengthened this aspect in our project to empower the people in our projects to be able to build their own restaurants where people can meet and where the ones who build the restaurant can establish an economic basis to live off.
What do you think the most important aspect of this work is? What is it, at the core, that you’re trying to achieve?
Sitting together around a table (or on the floor or standing up) and sharing a meal is a basic element of social relations in a family, a village, a community. If in an area where there is no place for the people to meet and to live like this, there is no way civil society can be (re-)built or continue to exist. This is why we help people in different areas of the world to create this places. And if there are two people of opposite/antagonized parties sitting at a table and one says to the other "can you pass me the salt please" communication has already started. And communication is the first step to solve a conflict.
Can you share an inspiring story that might convey to readers the heart of what Cuisine sans frontières is about?
We have built this place called "Calabash" in the north west of Kenya. Calabash is a restaurant which lies exactly on the border between the areas of the two tribes Pokot and Turkana. Those two tribes has been fighting each other for decades. The fights were about pasture, access to water, dowry etc. Since kalashnikovs were brought into the region the conflicts became more and more violent, many (mainly teenage boys) were killed. We opened the restaurant Calabash in 2014 and managed to convince people of the Turkana and the Pokot tribe to work together in the restaurant. Since they do so, the conflicts diminished substantially and the area became more and more safe.
This projects shows how a "small restaurant" can help solve a long-lasting conflict.
Visit the Cuisine Sans Frontières website for more: https://www.cuisinesansfrontieres.ch/en/