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Ever makan with a refugee? Here’s your chance this Sat (19th Aug) at Publika

We see them everyday. And sadly, many of them came to Malaysia for the jobs that we don’t want. They clean our rooms, guard our homes, and build our offices – but when’s the last time you had dinner with them? For that matter – outside of a hasty chap fan, have you ever wondered what other food do they eat?

R.AGE did an amazing feature on migrant workers (alot of whom are not legally here), and what they eat and how they prepare their food during fasting month, and it really opened our eyes to the fact that we know so little about these communities that are fast becoming a part of Malaysia’s social landscape.

But that’s how they prepare it… this weekend at the Cooler Lumpur Festival 2017, you can actually see how it actually tastes 😉


This Saturday, come to Publika to have a proper refugee meal

picha project meal

A delicious meal, prepared by a refugee family

That’s right… a social enterprise named Picha Project is organising a dinner, cooked for you by… refugees. And the name of the event is quite cool lo…

No Outside Food Allowed celebrates the cuisines of some of the most hardworking people in Malaysia with a one-night only dinner event at the festival prepared by refugees – featuring cuisines that will one day weave itself into the rich tapestry of Malaysian life. Come for the food, stay for their stories.” – from the Cooler Lumpur Festival 2017 page

It’s RM80 a pop… for floor seating! AND you’ll need to register beforehand to book a slot. BUT yes, you can be sure that it’ll be put to good use by Picha Project, who actually run a food delivery/catering service, with dishes cooked by… you guessed it… refugees.

What started as a “school project” has now sold more than half a million Ringgit in refugee-prepared meals

Co-founder Suzanne Ling distributing food at a Burmese refugee school

Co-founder Suzanne Ling distributing food at a Burmese refugee school

When Kim Lim, 27, Lee Swee Lin, 24, and Suzanne Ling, 24 first ventured out to create a catering company that benefited marginalized communities, detractors called it a “school project”. The problem which they were all concerned with, were refugee families, who were stuck in Malaysia for various reasons. A number of the refugees were working as professional nurses and teachers, journalists, architects, bank officers and chefs before fleeing their countries for various reasons. Some of them, had come to Malaysia only to be swindled and left penniless, and awaiting a long process of resettlement that often takes decades. So while they’re left here in Malaysia, without a valid working permit, it isn’t always to make a living.

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It all started when they were invited to a Raya dinner with one of the refugee families.

They always cook a feast, so we thought, ‘Why not invite people to come along and charge them to cover the cost of their cooking’? Surprisingly, the response was great. It sold out during Christmas when we tried it again, and again on Valentine’s Day. Last month, we did about 12 sessions during Ramadan. ” – Suzanne Ling, Co-founder, Picha Project

Starting from a brief incubation at MAGiC with a seed fund of RM30,000, the Picha Project also were recently chosen for The Edge Inspiring Young Leaders Awards 2017. Today, the social enterprise has 9 super cute Menu-selections, tied to 9 refugee families who cook and prepare a range of dishes each for both delivery and catering.


Picha Project's menus, cooked by 9 different refugee families. Click here to see what dishes they got

Picha Project’s menus, cooked by 9 different refugee families. Click on image to see what dishes they got

Last we checked in May, their total sales had just exceeded half-a-million ringgit, with 50% of the profits going to the families (!). You can ask around gaiz, that’s a sizeable lot more than most chefs earn from their food sales. The rest, go to actually packing, delivering and catering the food, which is done by the three girls, with the help of part-time volunteers. Geez…. sounds like alot of work lo. But that work has really paid off.

What’s most important is how much impact we see through this. We’ve had people helping pay off the debts of the families when they hear of it during a visit or their medical bills, sponsoring the children’s education, buying them a fridge … there is also a lot of open conversation, although we are there to moderate if things get too sensitive. It’s very experiential and organic. From September, it will be a weekly thing,” – Suzanne Ling


And yes, CILISOS will be at CoolerLumpur too, but on Friday 🙂

picha menu

Spot the editors!

So, this dinner is only one of like a bazillion cool things happening at Publika this weekend at the 5th Cooler Lumpur Festival 2017: Notes from the Future, from 17th-19th August 2017. There are a whole bunch of activities, including creative writing workshops, a VR art performance, and tips on how to get a film into Sundance!

Oh, and yea… we gonna be there too. CILISOS is the official media partner of this year’s Cooler Lumpur festival, so we’ll be in two panels, as shown above, on 18th August, Friday morning 🙂

While some of us are heading down to Singapore, others might be coming to dinner on sat as well, so if you taste or hear something particularly spicy, look for some familiar faces nearby 🙂

Jom makan!

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