A recipe for success

The journey of a girl from Upper Egypt to become the first female chef in a touristic resort

Dalia Younis
The journey of a girl from Upper Egypt to become the first female chef in a touristic resort
UNICEF/Egypt 2019/Dalia Younis

13 November 2019

At the Italian restaurant of Hilton Waterfalls Sharm El-Sheikh, right under Venus statue, stands the first female chef in the history of the resort, baking a delicious pizza in front of the hot oven.

Mona is 27 years old and this is her first job ever. To her, “late is better than never”. Back in Asyut where she was born, she had only high school education and very limited opportunities.

“Only my younger sister made it to college,” Mona said, “But since I was 12, I used to go to the youth center for activities and trainings.”

Last year, Mona was introduced to “Meshwary” (My journey), a UNICEF-supported project in collaboration with the Ministry of Youth and Sports and funded by USAID.  She attended a 2-month training with her younger sister on life skills and career counselling sessions that equipped her with the required tools she needs to plan her career path -.

One day, her college-graduate sister told her that she’s applying for a further training opportunity offered by “Meshwary” at Hilton. “I was encouraged to take my chance though I didn’t believe I will make it and went with her to be interviewed as well.”

The greatest surprise

Surprisingly, Mona was accepted for the interview and her sister was not selected for this phase but for a later one. The next battle was internal: “My family refused the concept of a girl working, specially my male siblings. My elder sisters who barely got any education were the ones who stood beside me and convinced my parents to let me travel alone for the training.” The training took place at Hilton Hurghada. To her surprise, the city was full of workers from Upper Egypt, but there were barely any females among them.

The bumpy road

Among her trainee’s batch from Upper Egypt, only few girls were lucky to get their families’ permission to travel for the training. “At Hilton, many of our new colleagues were shocked to know that we were from Upper Egypt. TV Drama stereotypes girls from Upper Egypt as oppressed, voiceless and with no ambitions other than building a family. We had to change that image” Mona said.

Some of Mona’s Hilton colleagues were supportive and empowering to the new trainee girls, others were skeptical about their endurance for long tiring hours of work. -Mona, in response, dazzled them by being one of the most hardworking trainees who could work tirelessly for extra hours. She explains how she answered male colleagues who advised her to “save herself the hassle of work and stay at home just like all other girls” coming from her village by saying: “I am not doing it for money, cooking is a passion that I always wanted to follow. One day I want to open my own seafood restaurant.” After the training, Mona went back home for a couple of months before she received another surprise.

The journey of a girl from Upper Egypt to become the first female chef in a touristic resort
UNICEF/Egypt 2019/Dalia Younis
“I have a girl in the kitchen that I wish you men were as good as her” said Mona’s boss to male colleagues.

Cherry on top

Mona was offered a job as a junior chef at Hilton Waterfalls Sharm El-Sheikh. This time, she knew how to deal with the resistance from her family and male colleagues. She explains: “Before the training in Hurghada, I never got the chance to deal with men as colleagues. In Sharm El-Sheikh, I was well-prepared to deal with presumptions about Upper Egypt girls, and those who’re not happy or comfortable with a female in their kitchen for the first time”.

The journey of a girl from Upper Egypt to become the first female chef in a touristic resort
UNICEF/Egypt 2019/Dalia Younis
“During my training at Hurghada, a satisfied guest told me: you don’t make food with your hands, you make it with your heart” Mona said.

About Meshwary

Mona was among  “Meshwary” candidates who got job offers at Hilton and one of the few girls from Upper Egypt who were not forced to turn down the offer just because their families wouldn’t allow them to live and work outside their hometowns.

Thanks to the continuous fund of USAID, UNICEF is able to continue the third phase of the implementation of “Meshwary” project until 2021 and offer youth (and specially girls) from Qena, Aswan, Assiut and Sohag opportunities of a lifetime. Within the framework of this phase, the programme works on leveraging the private sector resources and expertise through providing young people with further training opportunities as well as internship and work placement opportunities.

 “Meshwary” coaches adolescents and youth to become more empowered economically and socially. They receive training on life, employability entrepreneurial skills as well as comprehensive career guidance services and internship opportunities.

Find out more about what UNICEF Egypt does for adolescent development.