Sophie Reiss, a participant on the BINA GAP Shnat Sherut year, writes about the busiest time of the year at her volunteer placement.
With Passover fast approaching, my morning volunteering as part of BINA Shant Sherut at Kuchinate has been busier than ever. Kuchinate is a non-profit collective of over 300 African asylum-seeking women who receive psycho-social support and earn a sustainable income through making beautiful crafts inspired by traditional African art. Since asylum-seekers in Israel receive practically no support from the government, COVID-19 has disproportionately affected them, leaving many families on the brink of homelessness. Spending my mornings at Kuchinate, I can often feel the stress of the pandemic in the atmosphere. Still when I’m working on tasks with the women or sharing a communal lunch with them, I can also feel how Kuchinate helps relieve some of that stress by providing holistic support and fostering a sisterhood between the women.
The pandemic has made it much more difficult for Kuchinate, like all small businesses, to sell its products, leaving the women who work there with a lower income. Much of the work I did at the beginning of the year with Kuchinate was creating fundraisers (one of which earned nearly 10,000 dollars!), marketing new products, and finding creative solutions to get more donors and customers to make up for the gap. Yet suddenly, as Israel gears up for Passover, Kuchinate is receiving a huge influx of orders. It’s an amazing feeling to be busy all day packaging orders to be sent out. The studio is filled with boxes and boxes of orders. I spend the majority of my time at Kuchinate reporting to the different community managers. The community managers are asylum-seeking women in the collective who are in charge of different aspects of the organization. I’ve spent a lot of time with Asmeret, the manager of the sewing department, helping her make headbands from beautiful fabric. One day, I arrived in the studio to learn we had received an order of 100 notebooks and bags! I sat with Lina, another community manager who directs the shop and studio, and we meticulously packaged each order, all the while chatting in my broken Hebrew. Although it ended up taking us almost 5 hours, the time flew by, and I had so much fun doing it with Lina.
I love the work I do at Kuchinate — whether it’s simple tasks such as packaging orders, or redesigning the website — but my favorite part of working there is the communal lunches. Kuchinate provides a hot lunch each day, and all the women and staff gather together to eat. Soon after I began working at Kuchinate, I realized I wouldn’t get away with leaving the studio without having eaten, as the staff and the women are incredibly persistent about me joining them for lunch. The food is amazing, of course. But what’s more incredible is hearing the languages spoken over lunch — if I listen closely, I can hear Tigrinya, English, Hebrew, German, even Arabic. About once a week, there’s some sort of special occasion that calls for a special lunch. The women make traditional Eritrean food and then we all sing and eat together. After, we have Buna, a traditional Ethiopian and Eritrean coffee ceremony. Last week, we had one of these feasts to celebrate Lindsey, one of our community managers. Sister Aziza, an Eritrean nun who co-founded Kuchinate, insisted on feeding us Injera, a bread I had never tried before. Over the course of lunch and Buna, I talked with her about her life and how she came to found Kuchinate.
I feel so lucky to work at Kuchinate and to learn from the staff and the women in the collective how a community-based nonprofit works. As Passover approaches and I’m nostalgic for the Seder I usually have with my family, I feel so lucky to be able to experience Passover this year in such a unique and amazing place as Kuchinate.
GAP Shnat Sherut