Food for thought – cooking with refugees!

“All basic needs of the refugees here are already covered, thus there is no necessity for cooking additionally outside the camp.“

That was the answer Sabine W. and her husband Emrik H. got after asking the Austrian ministry of internal affairs for permission to cook and give out warm food in front of the refugee camp at Traiskirchen. An answer that made them think about the term „necessity“ and our perception of it in the first place.

How do we actually define „necessity“ when we talk about „basic needs“? When do we consider something as „necessary“? And, what is more important: At which point does „necessity“ end?
 Is it the roof over one’s head or a comfortable bed in a warm room?

The Welcoming Organization

The Welcoming Organization - Traiskirchen

It all started with a simple idea. Two people, who, living nearby the biggest refugee camp in Austria, felt the desire to lend their helping hands during the so-called „refugee crisis“ instead of inactively watching it unfold in front of their eyes.

Because of their longtime experience in their own catering business Sabine W. and Emrik H. decided to do what they can do best: cooking and giving out warm food.

Sabine: „We talked to the people working in the kitchen inside the refugee camp. They told us that a lot of food is being thrown away because the refugees are not used to the Austrian kitchen. Our idea was: What if we start cooking food they know? And since my husband is Indian himself, we started to cook a typical Arabic-Asian dish called Dal, which is made of basic ingredients like rice, red lentils, oil and spices. I will never forget the face of a refugee when the smell of the plate in his hands reached him and he immediately started to smile. It was like watching him come home for the first time again.“

The Welcoming OrganizationThat simple idea led to the foundation of a NGO called „The Welcoming Organization“, which, soon after its establishment, received a phone call from the major of Traiskirchen. Sabine and Emrik were told that, in spite of all resistance of the Austrian ministry they finally obtained the permission to continue with their helping project.

 Sabine: „The major told us that a gate would open up – just to provide the space behind that gate for our project. It was incredible. Our first thought was: Where did we get ourselves into? Can we really do this? But there was no turning back. We knew we had to do it even though we suddenly felt a big responsibility. Afterwards we heard from some inhabitants that this gate had been welded closed the last 50 years and obviously had opened just for us.“


From Refugees For Refugees

From that day on everything changed. During their buildup Sabine and Emrik started to involve the refugees of the camp in their work.

Sabine: „Everything that you see here was built up by the refugees at this camp. They have built up the tents and the floor we are standing on. And so we had the idea to also let them cook for themselves. There are so many energetic, young men here who have absolutely nothing to do. They are so glad about attending to a task since it makes them feel useful again. Moreover it connects them to the other refugees at the camp regardless of their religion or nationality. Everybody works together; it really runs off without problems. It actually turned into an integration project from refugees for refugees.“

„We need help!“

Right now TWO prepares food four times per week. Everybody is cordially invited to come, eat and chat together with the refugees – some of the inhabitants of Traiskirchen come by regularly to enjoy the meal and the heart-warming atmosphere.

However, considering the number of refugees who are currently living in Traiskirchen, the help of a couple of them is not enough. TWO lives on volunteers, who help in the kitchen but first and foremost take over the team leading function.

Sabine: „We really depend on helping hands and right now we need them more than before. Since university has started in October, many of our volunteers don’t have the time to help us anymore. In fact, at least one person per day would already be a big help.“ After talking to Sabine she smiles at „the boys“ in the kitchen and says: „Everytime I see these happy people coming together and eating their home-like food so delightfully I can confidently say: Yes, this means so much. Yes, it definitely is necessary.“

If you want to take the opportunity to help, then you contact TWO!

We would like to especially thank all refugees for welcoming us, TJ Alshemaeree for his translation skills and The Welcoming Organisation for taking us along and opening our eyes.

TEDxVienna bloggers enjoying their lunch with refugees

TEDxVienna bloggers enjoying their lunch with refugees




Image credits TJ Alshemaeree

Logo kindly provided by The Welcoming Organization

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About Marija Barisic

Marija studies German and History at the University of Vienna and loves reading and writing about psychological and spiritual theories of human mind. She likes late-night-talks with open-minded people and getting to know different point of views.

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