Far away from our land, refugee settlements are facing the fear of the novel coronavirus ripping through their camps with speed and mortality. Having endured displacement from their native homes, they now face the prospect of protracted devastation as the pandemic decimates their chance of survival due to lack of healthcare and food aid.
Quarantine, social distancing or any form of self-isolation are fantasies for refugees who cannot afford basic materials such as face masks and soap to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Hygiene is suddenly a luxury.
In Malaysia, PichaEats — a social enterprise established in 2016 that grew out of a desire to train refugees to cater and deliver food so they could earn a living to help their children receive education — was not going to deprive its “heroes” of the source of their livelihood. In fact, like an innovative enterprise should, CEO and co-founder Kim Lim pivoted the business and catering platform to keep their social cause alive.
“Catering, which makes up 60% of our business, has definitely taken the hardest toll. We’re expecting zero catering sales for the rest of the year,” laments Lim.
Although the Movement Control Order (MCO) crippled most industries as people are required to stay home, Picha swiftly responded before the country’s economic disruption becomes debilitating. With Ramadan just around the corner, Lim immediately rounded up its team members to prepare their mindset for the imminent challenges since all they could do was food delivery.
Hygiene among Picha's chefs was instantly heightened. Before they start cooking, all of them would need to get their body temperature measured before they enter a kitchen that has been sanitised according to the guidelines by the Ministry of Health. Drivers are also required to sanitise their cars before and after delivery. Virtual checks by the Picha team were conducted to monitor all these processes and rules were adhered.
It wasn’t just members of the public Picha was delivering too — the social enterprise has been busy preparing food for frontliners battling the pandemic head-on. The extra funds gained from the Ramadan (and soon, Raya) menu will be used to help refugees tide through the gruelling months ahead.
“The team has been curating and working on this menu since the beginning of the year with our Picha chefs, Chef Rania and Chef Dalia. You’ll find familiar dishes like chicken gulai and Smokey Mandi Rice, but the chefs also experimented with offerings like a deconstructed Baklava Chocolate Cake. We want to showcase to people a mix of cultures that inspire our menu.”
To maintain public’s attention on their social cause, Picha has also increased content on their social media platforms by organising Insta-live sessions with homegrown names like Zee Avi, singer-songwriter I’m Jenn, Audrey Ooi (known for her blog fourfeetnine) and even child rights activist Dr Hartini from Yayasan Chow Kit.
REVIVING ZAZA MOVEMENT AND INCUBATING A NEW ENTERPRISE
Undeniably, the pandemic has instigated an economic plight. Local enterprises throughout Malaysia have had to quickly adapt to the situation or be left behind in the wake of the crisis. Fortunately for Picha, adaptability came naturally.
“The team has definitely been much united,” said Lim. Since the start of the MCO, the organisation has been partnering up with many local businesses, from artisanal snack company Kintry to kefir-brewing expert The Kefir King to keep each other afloat. Currently, Picha is working on a new campaign with lifestyle brand A Piece of Malaysia (APOM) to promote and tell the stories of local businesses.
This campaign resonated deeply with the founders and reflected on one of their ideas they had since last year. After assessing the strengths of its in-house team, the founders decided to incubate a new content creation enterprise, Zucchini & Co, which will help SMEs tell their stories and gain exposure by providing rebranding, design or social media solutions.
“A lot of brands today might find it challenging to tell their stories and Zucchini & Co aims to assist them,” said Lim. “On top of that, working with Zucchini & Co means you can possibly save cost on marketing.”
Picha has also reactivated its fundraising campaign The Zaza Movement — named after a late cook, who arrived in Malaysia with his family of three from Syria in 2013 — to collect funds to support those burdened by the pandemic. The movement was made possible with contributions from partners such as GoJob, Ingenium, Ambank, Hong Leong Bank, Allianz Insurance, CIMB Foundation, Wasco, Leaderonomics and Minnamarina.
“Picha has been distributing homemade food by refugees to the frontliners who wouldn’t have time to eat and communities facing hardships due to losing their jobs during this period,” said Lim. So far, the donations from 260 contributors have supplied over 20,000 meals to those in need.
They say a crisis often reveals one’s true character. In this case, Picha’s actions — or reactions to the pandemic — only show that the people behind the brand are as true as how they promote themselves to be: a food business that rebuilds lives.
Watch our video collaboration with PichaEats below:
Video editing: Emily Yap
To make food deliveries or contribute to its Covid relief, see here.