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The tiny nation of Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa, with a population of more than 10 million in an area smaller than the state of Maryland. Rwanda is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 166 out of 187 countries listed in the U.N. Development Program’s Human Development Index.
Crossing over from Rwanda into Uganda you can sense the hopeful energy of a young country in the process of renewal. From the hilly city center of Kigali we traveled every day with local staff into the village of Ndera, on the outskirts of the urban sprawl. Only 30 minutes from the center, but a SO far away in terms of access to resources. We were so thankful to be hosted by the AMAZING organization, Gardens for Health International. While we were in Ndera we trained the nutrition outreach staff at GHI and also the main nutrition program manager for Partners in Health.
Both of these organizations focus on providing nutrition education to the most vulnerable portion of the population, and our trainings were met with much appreciation. We played games, made recipes, learned about value-added foods, studied food as medicine, and popped homemade popcorn (many of our leaders could not believe there was no machine needed!). For the final food culture meal the group prepared Isombe and rice, a local dish that is as labor intensive to prepare as it is delicious. Think pounded cassava leaf gravy with eggplant and peanut flour!
Each of the individuals we trained works with hundreds of families a year, making an incredible impact on reversing malnutrition for the most vulnerable. We are so thankful to have worked with such amazing Local Leaders!
Off the beaten path in rural Uganda, we trained 25 Local Leaders and served over 200 villagers at our final food culture banquet in the central Ugandan district of Mityana. Making Matoke (steamed plantains) for that many is quite a feat, but our newly trained Leaders were up to the challenge. The whole week they worked with us, learning our experiential model, and using critical thinking skills to evaluate health and nutrition topics as they related to local food culture.
Once the youth education workshop began in conjunction with Children of Bukeka, our leaders were excited to practice passing on their newly gained knowledge to the younger generation. Taking advantage of all of the amazing, freshly grown fruits and vegetables was at the forefront of our program here in Bulera, where we instilled in our group a deep appreciation for traditional cooking methods and ingredients. Our final meal of steamed plantains with ground nut sauce, eggplant, sautéed greens, beans, and steamed pumpkin was AMAZING (not to mention another dynamite healthy sweet)! Definitely one of the tastiest meals CBP has had yet in Africa.
AND, just like before in Kenya we were invited on the fly to run a one-day introductory training for Uganda Red Cross staff in rural Kayunga, east of Kampala. The URC volunteers were totally on board with the program, and even gifted us pinneapples in gratitude.
We thought our Kenya projects would end in Kibera as originally planned, but we were also invited to lead a training in Nakuru at the Rhonda slum, where thousands of Internally Displaced political refugees have been living. We ended up training an additional 16 Local Leaders to teach youth about the importance of traditional foods for nutrition and the environment.
Just when we were ready to take a breather, a last minute opportunity came up to conduct a brief training for a dozen Global Routes College Interns who were about to be placed in a village homestay where they would be working as Educators! The interns were so excited to have concrete tools to use to engage youth in their villages in the areas of health, cooking, nutrition and sustainability! And best of all, the interns brought the healthy date sweets we made as a group as a welcome gift for their homestay families!
The training was eye-opening for everyone involved, and we hope our GR friends train with us formally this year through CBP’s new College Summer Intern Program (details coming soon on the website!).
The Cookbook Project was thrilled to have been invited to facilitate cooking and nutrition workshops during Litworld’s first ever LitCamp in conjunction with Children of Kibera. Kibera is the second largest slum in Africa, second only to Soweto. Home to an estimated one million people, 4 of 5 of whom are formally unemployed. Many internally displaced people end up making their way to Kibera due to political unrest, tribal fighting, or the hope of better opportunity in Nairobi. Children of Kibera serves at-risk youth, offering them the chance to grow, learn, and use education as a path for hope and success by providing high quality education and enrichment programs and scholarships for secondary school.
The LitCamp brought together about 150 children ages 4-14. The Cookbook Project helped to run community building games, nutrition-oriented activities, and our signature healthy snacks workshop, complete with freshly popped popcorn and SO MUCH sliced watermelon, native to Africa!
LOCAL LEADERS TRAINING
Once the LitCamp was over, CBP stayed on to conduct a Local Leaders Training for Children of Kibera staff and the Red Rose School teachers in Kibera. The Training reached 22 local educators and culminated in a group feast of Brown (traditional) Ugali with Sukumawiki and Omena. Children of Kibera staff who were in charge of LitClub groups for the older girls also worked with CBP to prepare LitClub Food Culture Meals featuring local favorites and Swahili influenced specialties.
While in Kibera CBP also had the opportunity to Train a number of the Power Women, a group of mothers ‘living positive’ with HIV/AIDs. The Power Women run a craft shop as a cooperative way to fund medical costs, but many of them have become community advocates of traditional diets for strengthening immunity. While many folks moving to the city often abandon their traditional village diet, the Power Women have returned back to the foods of their native places as a way to boost their immune systems and live longer. These women are amazing advocates for nutrition, not just for people living with HIV/AIDs and are excited to lead CBP activities in their community!
This fall, Cairo was the gateway for CBP’s onsite trainings in East Africa. In the land of the ancient pharaohs CBP founders sampled the delights of a rich regional food culture on their way to begin On-Site Local Leaders Trainings in East Africa. Cairo abounds with small restaurants where the only meal on offer is Koshari, a comfort dish that includes macaroni noodles, rice, lentils, crispy onions, and a delectable tomato sauce. Abdul Tarak runs the most famous Koshari joint in all of Cairo – there are no other locations, but the one location near the Egyptian Museum is so popular that they just keep growing vertically. In fact, the restaurant boasts 6 floors of seating for Koshari (and we still needed to wait to pounce on a table in the process o being cleared). YUM.
After you have gorged on Koshari, the only thing left to do is to go to an open air Sheesha café to enjoy a cold, sweet glass of Kardadi, or Hibiscus tea: especially when it is so hot you can barely think! Good for cooling the body, amongst other health benefits, Hibiscus tea is infamous throughout Egypt – in fact, Aswan grows the most prized Hibiscus and cafes in Cairo compete to offer the best quality. After a few days of boiling hot desert weather, and more fresh dates than any human should consume in a 48 hour period, CBP was thankful that the layover was over and happy to head to Nairobi where there were cooler climes and smiling faces.
Over the summer, Cookbook Project founders Adam Aronovitz and Alissa Bilfield led international service-learning trips through Global Routes, a leader in cross-cultural immersion programs. Alissa was based out of Nepal, where she and a group of high school students hiked the Langtang Trail in the Himalayas during monsoon season. Leaches abounded, until the group went over 3,000 meters, where they were thankfully replaced with spectacular views of snow-capped mountains. In the village of Chahare Dovan where the group was building a secondary school out of stone and mud, everyone dined on Dal Bhat Tarkari every night, used squat toilets, and drank their fill of piping hot Chai.
Adam was based out of Ecuador, where he led a group through a 3 week homestay in rural Ecuador. Their primary service project was to build a kitchen for the community that would allow students to stay in school during lunchtime! The group also shared their favorite recipes with the entire community hosting a GIANT food culture BBQ. The group basked in their success during the final week of travel to the Galapagos Islands, where Marine Iguanas outnumbered humans and the group even saw a BLUE WHALE on the way to Floreana Island.
On June 26th The Cookbook Project hosted our FIRST EVER fundraiser at the incredible SOHO Scavolini Kitchen Gallery in NYC. We sold out of tickets at the door, with over 125 people in attendance! Guests sampled food culture recipes from around the world, including one of our South Indian street food favorites, Pani Puri made by Mother-Daughter Duo from Natural Gourmet Institute. Cloud Catering dazzled attendees with their live cooking demonstrations of Southeast Asian fusion. Bread and Spoon also showed off their culinary talents featuring sustainable, plant-based recipes from Italy.
While everyone socialized and networked, guests were also engaged in CBP experiential food education activities, including making chefs hats, food culture recipes, guessing exotic spices, taking our NYC Food Culture Quiz, and puckering up at the Global Pickle Station, hosted by Sustainable Flatbush. Finally, our favorite SNL Comedian Vanessa Bayer wowed the crowd with a signature stand-up performance!
All in attendance helped CBP to raise crucial funds through tickets and the amazing silent auction, where folks bid on exotic items, unique art and photography, and quirky kitchen utensils. All of the funds raised are going to support Local Leader trainings and youth education projects in Africa, Asia and the United States. Special thanks to Scavolini for hosting our inaugural NYC fundraiser and to our amazing caterers who donated their services.
AND of course, MANY MANY thanks for all of your support ~ we can’t wait till next year!
New Orleans: The Crescent City, the City that Care Forgot, the Big Easy — NOLA. Call it what you like, New Orleans is home to perhaps one of the richest food cultures in the USA. The legacy of Cajun and Creole cooking has imparting pride and even a bit of gastronomic elitism in the minds and bellies of local residents. While New Orleans boasts some of the most amazing restaurants and eateries around, at the same time many parts of the city are complete Food Deserts. The Sahara of Food Deserts is indeed the Lower Ninth Ward, an area of the city that still remains underdeveloped post-Katrina. We spent a week and a half training Local Leaders and working with youth from Our School at Blair Grocery, Edible Schoolyard, and Akili Academy. Not only did the we focus on local food culture, but also micro-food cultures that exist within the same city. Our work culminated in a celebration of food fusion at the Live Earth festival the day before Earth Day, where three volunteers from the group at Our School at Blair Grocery came to prepare fresh crawfish summer rolls with fresh herbs and lettuce picked straight from OSBG’s garden. In the future The Cookbook Project is hoping to establish a long-term program in Nola.