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Latest updates 05/17/2019

A dozen women are standing around the kitchen island making kibbeh -- 200 of them! -- and dolma and a handful of other dishes. They’re talking about citizenship: how to apply, what the process is like, the ceremony. The space smells of cinnamon, clove, onion. The women are relaxed, laughing, sometimes even teasing.

The occasion is a session of The Table Community Food Centre's Newcomer Kitchen, a program that creates space in the kitchen for newcomer women to gather, share their experiences of immigration, and connect with each other over different flavours, cultures, and traditions.

I immigrated from Pakistan to the small town of Galt, Ontario as as a child,” says program coordinator Aisha Toor. “I remember what I felt back then: feeling that we would never have a space that was our own, like we were never going to catch up. It was only when other Pakistani women arrived that we, and especially my mother, started to feel like we had a community.”

Toor saw parallels in the small town of Perth, Ontario, where The Table is located. “If you're an immigrant here, you're part of a tiny minority.” Newcomers sometimes struggle to make connections, meet their neighbours, find a space they can make their own.

That's what inspired me to start the Newcomer Kitchen. I wanted to create a safe space specifically for immigrant women, a space where they could share their immigration experiences, and meet their neighbours.” The Table offered its kitchen as that space.

For Toor, creating the safe and welcoming space was the first step. The food, in many ways, was secondary. Instead of planning out recipes far in advance, she got in touch with participants each week to ask them what they felt like cooking. She’d pick up the ingredients, and then they’d cook together, and talk -- about immigration, and also language retention retention in children, community supports, and a lot more. During the first session they made food Toor’s mother had cooked for her as a child: aloo paratha and channa. Other weeks, the group tackled tacos, mole, crepes, and Korean beef soup. For women in the group who had varying levels of experience and comfort with English, the food became the language of connection and trust.

"[Coming here], I felt more free and comfortable to live in a small town as an immigrant,” one of the participants told Toor. “I’m not the only newcomer here and the neighbourhood are more welcoming us than I thought and experienced.”

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