Words by Rachel Trevarthen
How can we assist newly arrived refugees to utilise their potential and celebrate their culture amidst the polemic political discourse of Australia?
Tamil Feasts, a Melbourne based social project, is answering this question one banquet at a time.
Running out of CERES in Brunswick East, Tamil cooks Sri, Nirma, Niro and Nigethan share their food heritage through weekly banquets of curries, chutneys, bhajis, dahls, kormas and masalas.
The project is a result of passion and action coming together to produce unexpected results. Beginning with an initial test of two feasts (that sold out in only five days) earlier this year, Tamil Feasts has grown to twice weekly feasts on Mondays and Tuesdays. Monday is meat and seafood night while Tuesdays is vegan with a three-course feast costing only $30.00.
It supports positive reintegration into society for Tamil refugees, a chance to connect with others and support those in a similar situation. Being a communal feast, everyone sits down to eat together and gets to know the other customers as well as stories of the men behind the food.
The organisation is truly grassroots beginning with no start up funding, merely a Facebook account, Trybooking link and the hire of a kitchen.
Dori Ellington, the program manager, set it up with Sri and Nirma after a knee jerk reaction to ‘just do something’ and help the men reconnect with society after six years of their lives being taken away in detention.
“I am often approached by people wanting to contribute to Tamil Feasts with ideas or looking for work and while I can’t do anything immediately, I hope to see the business grow in the future,” Dori says.
As more Tamil men are released from detention centres, the team hopes to expand and along with it provide more work, more experience and more sharing of cultural richness.
Although the kitchen has become their new home, Dori says it’s had great benefits.
“I’ve seen the guys build more confidence over time, coming out of the kitchen more to chat and interact with customers and share their stories as they like,” she says.
Tamil Feasts works in a powerful but peaceful way to inform the people of Melbourne about the reality of life in detention centres but more importantly provides a space to understand the individual realities of asylum seeking. Every time the feast sells out, it provides a beacon of hope that the Australian people support a national asylum seeker policy based on compassion rather than contempt.
Mostly though, it’s about sharing culture through food, welcoming new members of the community and celebrating the greatness of ordinary people doing small but extraordinary things.
To find out more about Tamil Feasts or join a banquet visit their Facebook page.