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Abdul Koroma: From the camp of Chios to the kitchen of Christoforos Peskias

Journalist: Apostolos Staikos
Operator/Editor: Simon Chabas

It’s almost four in the afternoon. Abdul arrives at the restaurant’s kitchen and puts on his white uniform. All the members of Christoforos Peskias’ team are in their places. The 18-year-old refugee chops wild mushrooms. He continues with apples and carrots, and shortly afterwards boils some eggs.

With METAdrasi’s help, Abdul found a job, overcame all the obstacles and is now learning the art of cooking alongside a famous chef.

“I am part of a strong team. My colleagues help and guide me. This is very important because next to them I learn a lot and I keep improving myself. As for Mr. Peskias, whatever I can say it would be an understatement. He gave me an opportunity, he teaches me and I do my best to be worthy of his trust,” says the young refugee from Sierra Leone.

Abdul arrived in Chios in March 2022, as an unaccompanied minor. In May of the same year, he joined the Organization’s shelter for unaccompanied children on the island. There, he started make his first steps in cooking. He was inspired by the cook of the shelter, who taught him his first recipes.

In July 2022 he was transferred to one of METAdrasi’s supported independent living apartments in Athens. “The Supported Independent Living* programme is not just another housing programme, but it aims to make the children feel that they have a home, which is their home, and a team of professionals who are by their side every step of the way. The aim of the programme is to meet the children’s basic needs, but also a big part of their emotional needs and especially the need to “belong” to a group that cares for them and looks after them,” says programme co-ordinator Katerina Galani.

Shortly after his arrival in the capital city, Abdul started volunteering in a social kitchen and attended cooking classes. A few months before he turned 18, he decided it was time to start his professional career.

“Abdul joined our kitchen when he was 17 years old. He was a minor, so we had to overcome a lot of issues and of course the bureaucracy. We worked with METAdrasi and we succeeded. At first he worked a few hours, but now he works full time. He is young, he has a lot to learn. But he is hard-working and wants to learn, to move forward”, says chef Christoforos Peskias.

Indeed, Abdul’s entry into the labour market had been a challenge, as he had not come of age. METAdrasi’s team guided the then unaccompanied minor as he searched for a job, and supported him until all the necessary procedures were completed. Among other things, they helped him to obtain a Tax Identification Number and an Individual Insurance Account, as well as to open a bank account.

“For Abdul, it certainly wasn’t easy. He came from a foreign country where everything is different. He had to integrate into a new environment and work with people he didn’t know. He succeeded because he works with himself, he seems to love cooking,” says chef Christoforos Peskias.

His talent was also recognized by a cooking school that gave him a scholarship. Abdul completed his studies and passed his certification exams. Once he turned 18 and since he was now working, he decided to rent his own apartment. Throughout this process, the team of the Organization’s Supported Independent Living programme stood by his side.

“METAdrasi helped me in my first steps in Greece and supported me to stand on my feet. They offered me shelter in Chios and in Athens, enrolled me in school and of course helped me to find a job. The people of the Organization have always been there for me, and I know that they will support me in my future plans”, says the young refugee.

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Abdul is part of a team that includes both experienced and younger cooks. Next to them, the young refugee learns to function as “a link of a chain”. “Our work is a team effort,” says Christoforos Peskias, explaining that in a multinational kitchen there is a place for those who are willing to work and develop.

Here we don’t do any favours, we didn’t offer Abdul a position because he is a refugee. We gave him a job because we believe in his abilities, because we saw something in this kid. Everyone here is a professional and has certain responsibilities. Abdul is young, he needs ten more years in the kitchen. But I believe that if he continues to work hard, one day he will become a chef. I believe he can and will succeed,” estimates Christoforos Peskias.

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“The Greek society has taken some steps, but I think it still has a long way to go. We remain cautious and skeptical about refugees and migrants. We are not open to the new and different. I think we should be more open to accepting people of different countries, different beliefs and preferences,” says chef Christoforos Peskias.

It’s now 7:30pm and the restaurant opens its doors. The first orders arrive in the kitchen. Tagliolini with truffle and carbonara sauce. A mustard-crusted fish, mashed potatoes and rocket sauce. Chefs, cooks and assistants give their best so that the result will satisfy even the most demanding customers.

Abdul boils greens and chops peppers. He wipes the crumbs off the counter as he awaits instructions for the next dishes. A colleague asks him if he has anything planned on his day off. Many times after work or on their day off, team members go out for lunch or drinks.

The 18-year-old refugee is now independent and has every reason to look to the future with optimism. After gaining experience in Greece, he wants to work in restaurants abroad.

Now I can dream about the future. I am making a new start. I have a job, I will become a cook and one day I will become a chef! says Abdul Koroma.

We thank the restaurant “Balthazar” and the team of chef Christoforos Peskias for their hospitality.

*The programme is implemented with the support of the National Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, co-funded by the European Union.

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