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The right recipe for a safe and warm welcome for new refugees

After fleeing conflict in Congo, Jojo and Namarke both started a new life in Albury. Now together they run a business that gives back to other refugees.

The kitchen is a hive of activity. Chapattis being hand rolled, rock melon chopped and potatoes boiling on the stove. Clad in aprons and chef's hats, Congolese women Jojo and Namarke move confidently around the kitchen creating a feast of flavours, to warmly welcome new refugees.

Less than two years ago, Jojo and Namarke arrived in the quiet suburbs of inland Albury in New South Wales as refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Jojo with her teenaged son arrived first, then Namarke with her husband and two small children.

Nobody, including Namarke and Jojo, would have predicted that less than two years later they would be running a business that makes the challenges of establishing a new life a little easier for refugees who follow them.

Long and emotional journey

Home to a diverse population, Albury welcomes many Congolese refugees. There are now 500 Congolese people living in the city, and the community is growing.

The journey from Africa to Albury is emotional and long, and the destination unknown. Each new refugee is supported by our team, which includes case workers, housing officers and bilingual workers.

“We wrap around the families to support them wherever they need,” Sinthu Santhirasegaram, the Albury Team Leader explains.

“A lot of the families come with quite complex physical and mental health issues. So it’s really supporting them in whatever they need to get to a position where they are independent in the community.”

Uplifting women make life better with food

Jojo (left) and Namarke are Inuuywa Mama, Uplifting Women

Namarke was a pharmacist in her home country, a baker to get by after fleeing to Kenya with her husband and young son and daughter. Jojo ran her own small food business in Burundi where she lived for eight years after fleeing the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Only her teenaged son is with her in Australia, her daughter still lives in Burundi.

With many Congolese refugees arriving in Albury, Jojo and Namarke sensed there was a meaningful business opportunity to be had. Inuuywa Mama was born. The name in English translates descriptively to Uplifting Women.

“So the reason why we came up with the business, and the name, is because we want to pass something to the future generation, our children,” Jojo explains.

“The idea came from when we were back in Africa. We used to cook for people, as a small business,” Namarke describes.

Inuuywa Mama have built a business to cater for and support other new refugees arriving in Albury from Congo. They cook for community events and contract to Red Cross to deliver culturally-appropriate welcome packs for each new Congolese refugee family who arrives in Albury.

As part of this welcome pack, Jojo and Namarke set up new homes, stock them with culturally-appropriate food and, with particular meaning, cook the new family’s first meal in Australia.

In all cultures food is a way to show you care and to build connections. Inuuywa Mama’s delicious chappattis, potato stews and fresh salads are a taste of home that say in the best possible way ‘you’re welcome and safe’.

“By the time they [new refugees] get here, they are hungry, they don't know what to expect,” Elijah Mwatha, Red Cross Case Manager describes. “Most of them, they don't actually eat even during the flight, because they are not accustomed to the food in the aeroplane. But when they get here and they see food that they know, that just gives them peace and they are happy about it.” 

Business with heart

Inuuywa Mama is both a business and a philosophy. True to their name of Uplifting Woman, their food transports Congolese culture to the generation of young people now growing up in Australia.

“The aim is to expose what we are doing to anyone, where they can see us. It’s like representing our mother in that way,” Jojo says poetically.

A cultural gap between young people and older generations is a common experience for many within the Congolese community in Albury, explains Christian Bashimbe, Red Cross Bicultural Worker.

“The struggles are very different, because with the younger people, it’s very easy for them to settle and learn the new system, while the parents are still running behind because they don't have that same chance,” he says.

Food is one ingredient helping to stir connection through the generations, while layering a sense of community and connection to Australia.

Looking to their own future, Jojo and Namarke dream of opening an African restaurant in their new home town.

The chefs are proof that food really can make the world better.

What’s on the menu

Nyama A hearty beef stew
Lenja Lenja Comforting spinach dish
Potato curry Mild potato and pea curry
Chapapati Homemade flat bread
Rice With secret ingredient
Salad Coleslaw with rock melon

If you would like to help refugees and asylum seekers living in Australia