Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes
MAASTRICHT. Arabic music is blaring from the kitchen at the Jan Van Eyck Academy an hour before the doors are to open. Around twenty people from the Maastricht refugee centre (AZC) and a chef from Cato by Cato are manoeuvring their way around the countless pots and saucers and the occasional curious child. It’s Thursday 18 February and the social entrepreneurship organisation Enactus is about to hold its first Cook & Connect dinner.
“We’re trying to get firms and organisations to talk to the refugees,” says Jacqueline Jahnel, a member of the Enactus Social Events team. She praises the efforts of other organisations to build “actual connections” that will benefit the residents of the AZC in finding employment and other opportunities. With this in mind, Enactus made 20 tickets for this evening available specifically to firms and private interest groups. “We definitely have long-term goals in mind,” adds another Enactus member, Philip Baron. The team is currently looking into organising more events, such as cooking classes in Arab cuisine that interested parties can pay to attend.
People are chatting, cooking and laughing. Some are even dancing. Yara Deeb, a former AZC resident and part of tonight’s kitchen staff, is enjoying the positive mood. “Both sides were very excited to work together, and we could communicate surprisingly well,” she says, despite the language barrier. “With the Enactus team, I would initially try to translate the terms I was looking for. Eventually I just looked up and showed them pictures of the ingredients I needed!” Deeb emphasises the importance of such events: “This a very trying time for us, and being able to just shut off for a while, whether by working, or doing something for others like tonight, helps immensely.”
Students and other local residents lucky enough to get one of the 50 tickets made available to the public sensed that underlying sentiment. “It was beautiful to see so many people coming together to support the refugees in integrating into our lovely little community of Maastricht,” said law student Grace O’Keeffe after the dinner. Her other favourite part of the evening? “The food, the food and the food. All the food.”