Former refugees tend to have limited access to the Dutch labor market. Legal or procedural obstacles and limited Dutch proficiency prove to be obstacles to finding a job. In The Hague, former refugee women of the East African Community join forces to create their own work. They founded catering cooperative AfriPan.
It was in the spring of 2015, when a group of East African women in The Hague decided to take matters into their own hands. All women had experienced difficulties finding a job, due to lengthy asylum procedures, legal hurdles, and insufficient Dutch proficiency. Using their skills and shared passion they started AfriPan Catering, a cooperative of East African women offering their cooking skills.
At AfriPan, the women not only cook but also gain experience in running a business. What’s more, they get the chance to expand their social networks. The profit that they make is spent on developing the women’s skills. “The city of The Hague has been very supportive of our initiative,” AfriPan founder Godefroid Nimbona says. “These women now have the opportunity to obtain work experience by doing something they like. This is extremely encouraging to them.”
Running a real business
Hyacinthe Muhorakeye is one of the five women that are working at AfriPan. In 2005, she fled from the civil war in Burundi. Until then she had been working as the personal secretary of the Minister of Justice. She applied for asylum in The Netherlands, received a temporary residence permit, and has been living in The Hague with her four children since.
“At the beginning, integration into Dutch society was hard,” she remembers. Like the other women from AfriPan, she had a degree as well as work experience. But finding a job was difficult. “At AfriPan, I learned how to run a real business. It is very different from the theory that I learned in school. When AfriPan grows bigger, I hope to become part of its management team.”
AfriPan is intent on growing, which is why its founders are looking for a permanent space where they can prepare their food and that is spacious enough to host a restaurant. “Right now, we rent a kitchen every time we receive an order,” Nimbona explains. “Once we have a permanent place, we can accept more orders, increase profits, and employ the women fulltime.”
“The impact of AfriPan is obvious,” he stresses. “The women are gaining confidence by working. I see them shine when an order has been completed and the client is satisfied. They believe in their business and want to earn a living with it.”