This Mother’s Day, meet the women from Afghanistan who had to leave their homeland to start a new life in the city. These women are single mothers who have come together to form Ilham, a catering service that serves traditional Afghani dishes to Delhiites. Overcoming all odds, these women are working towards an empowered future for their children and the community. Ilham, an initiative by UNHCR and Access has brought together seven refugee women from Afghanistan in a culinary affair of sorts.
All these women are single mothers whose husbands either died or were left behind in Afghanistan because of the conflict in the country. Qadria, a member and translator of the group says, “Ilham means to learn something from others. When we started this catering service in Delhi, we realised that we were learning more and more about the city’s flavours and cultures”. Qadria reminisces over life in Afghanistan and the grandeur of daawats (parties) there. She says, “Most parties that we had back home had a gathering of 40-50 people. We used to cook lavish meals and that is why we decided to take up catering in Delhi as well”.
Their food is a hit among the people and they get regular orders facilitated by UNHCR. One dish that always gets praises is the Afghan ashak. “It is a dish similar to dumplings. We get a lot of requests for it and people also get it packed.” Another dish which is a hit with the guests is the Meetha Khajur which is a donut-like sweet dish. When asked what their favourite dish was, the unanimous answer was chicken biryani. “I love chhole bhature and gajar ka halwa”, adds Khatera.
The city has now been home a lot of them for close to about a decade and managing as single mothers has not been easy. Some of their children have grown up and are working in call centres. Some are still completing their education from Open School. “Every place has its good side and bad side. People here have accepted us, so that’s a good thing. But there are instances of discrimination. We are asked to pay a higher rent. If we had that kind of money, would we be living like this?” says Khatera.
Qadria has four children-three sons and a daughter. Her daughter dropped out of school due to security reasons. “My eldest son is 18 years old and couldn’t complete his education. He now works in a call centre to help support us”, she says. Qadria was a trained college-level teacher in Afghanistan and the fact that her own children have to struggle to complete school brings a wry smile to her face. Their refugee status and the legal troubles that come with it cause a hindrance in conducting even day-to-day activities.
Standing strong in the face of adversities, these women are setting examples for others in their community. But one thing they have in common is their love for the city. “We love the festivals here, especially Diwali and Holi as we have never seen such celebrations in Afghanistan”, says Qadria. Ziyagul, the most vocal of the lot, loves dancing. “There are festivals taking place all year round. People here have showed us love and also invite us to be part of the celebrations”, says Ziyagul.
Their initiative has got a great response in the past and they wish to serve more Afghani delicacies to the people. Their willpower and determination are proof that a mother will always find a way to keep her children safe.