Slicing and dicing onions from behind the kitchen counter at Avenue 41, Norhayati Hj Mohd has a lot on her hands, both figurative and literal as she is the main breadwinner of her household, having to juggle her home business and motherhood. 

Despite her situation, however, this ‘empowered mother’ is not slaving away at the stove for her own self, but it is at the service of others as Norhayati represents one of the many hands involved in preparing meals for the needy this Ramadhan. 

Image: Iqbal Dato Selamat

Norhayati is one of two mothers involved in the Social Kitchen, a programme initiated by the Society for Community Outreach and Training (SCOT) which provides entrepreneurial opportunities for mothers in need by allowing them to cater their home-cooked Iftar meals to events or as donations. 

“The Social Kitchen is entirely a volunteer organisation that relies on public donations and contributions to purchase food or meals (and) it functions as a social enterprise aimed at tackling issues such as unemployment,” said Co-Project Leader Abdul Azim Hj Zulkifli. 

Image: Iqbal Dato Selamat

The initiative, according to Azim, is meant to be a stepping stone for the mothers, where they are taught the necessary skills to grow their business with sessions on entrepreneurial skills such as financial management and marketing. 

However, there is a charitable twist to the Social Kitchen where meals made by the mothers in need can be purchased by the public, which is then distributed to other economically-challenged communities and in essence, the programme is where entrepreneurship is used to help communities in need.

Image: Iqbal Dato Selamat

“We call them empowered mothers, and we have known them through our other project, the Ramadhan Charity drive and at that point, the mothers did not have an income of their own, which was when this initiative was conceived by our chairman,” explained the other Co-Project Leader, Muhammad Hamizan Mohammad Nor Iman. 

On her part, Norhayati shared how much progress she has made in her entrepreneurial journey since joining the Social Kitchen during its second iteration last year, noting that it has helped her hone her skills as an entrepreneur in order achieve financial stability. 

“It can be (a) challenging (life) but we have to be determined and not give up on ourselves, you just have to keep pushing forward,” she said, noting that the most fulfilling part of the programme is the people that she meets. 

Social Kitchen 2021, a decade of achievement

This year’s iteration of the Social Kitchen actually falls on SCOT’s ten year anniversary, a significant milestone for the NGO which aims to be the catalyst for sustainable poverty alleviation in the sultanate. 

“For our 10th anniversary, we wanted to make it (The Social Kitchen) bigger. Last year, we made around 3,000 meals over the course of three months, so this year we decided to increase it to 5,000 meals,” said Abdul Azim Hj Zulkifli.

Image: Iqbal Dato Selamat

In 2020, during the COVID-19 outbreak, the empowered mothers of SCOT prepared over 3,500 meals over the course of three months where the packed meals were distributed to the medical frontliners. 

Image: Iqbal Dato Selamat

However, this Ramadhan, the Social Kitchen is churning out over 5,000 meals a day for the socio-economically challenged communities and foreign workers. Within a month, it has received an overwhelming response from the public and corporations. 

The Social Kitchen has received over 6,000 meals purchased, with the majority of the donation coming from the public, therefore exceeding its initial target of  5,000 meals, Azim went on to share, noting how they went from producing 150 meals a day to twice the number to reach the target goal.

The Social Kitchen is non-governmental organisation that relies on donations and cash contributions to purchase food. 

It also runs on volunteers where the programme offers the public and corporate an opportunity to be behind the kitchen, preparing the meals and also to personally deliver the meals to the underprivileged communities. 

 “What the 5,000 meals challenge creates is a sense of belonging and a community where everyone can be involved,” added Azim, who has volunteered with SCOT for the past two years.

“I remember one of the days, I delivered a bag full of meals to one of the migrant workers and the smile on his face is what made me want to do this more,” he shared.

As for future plans, SCOT shared that the Social Kitchen will continue to provide the underprivileged mothers the opportunity to earn an extra income and in the long run, the NGO hopes to create more programmes in the future with long-lasting solutions to try to alleviate  poverty.

This article was first published on 15 May, 2021 in our Weekly E-Paper issue 141

THE BRUNEIAN | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

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