UNICEF project empowers female chefs in northern Lebanon

A team of ten young women - all of whom were unemployed, and some of whom had never worked before - learned professional cooking skills and later worked in a neighborhood restaurant in Tripoli

UNICEF Lebanon
Participants in the Cash 4 Work programme
UNICEF2022/Fouad-Choufany/Lebanon
01 April 2022

UNICEF’s skilling and employability package provides training, employment support services and employment opportunities to thousands of youths in Lebanon through a series of specialized projects. As part of a programme funded by Germany through the German Development Bank KfW and the government of Norway, a team of ten young women - all of whom were unemployed, and some of whom had never worked before - learned professional cooking skills and later worked in a neighborhood restaurant in Tripoli.

As Lebanon continues to struggle under the weight of its continuing economic crisis, the hardest hit are its most vulnerable residents – including the nation’s youth.

Skilling and employability resulting in Cash for Work and employment programmes can address basic needs and prevent negative coping mechanisms among vulnerable communities. They are intended to secure the livelihoods of the acutely affected target groups in the short term.

Nineteen-year-old Maha has always dreamed of becoming a chef. Before her country’s financial crisis began to bite, she enrolled at and attended a vocational school to pursue her dream. When Lebanon’s economy collapsed, and with her family unable to continue to pay her tuition fees, she was forced to drop out.

Maha, 19 years, one of the participants in the Cash 4 Work programme
UNICEF2022/Fouad-Choufany/Lebanon

Of course, I was upset,” she says. “I love learning. After I left school, I kept trying to learn more about culinary arts by watching educational videos on YouTube and practising in our kitchen. It was the only way I could gain experience!”

"I think I want to become a specialised pastry chef in the future"

Maha was eager to apply when she learned of UNICEF’s skilling programme and the opportunity it presented – including the ultimate prize of a period of paid cash for work at the local Baytna Express restaurant in Mina, Tripoli.

“This is the hands-on training I wanted,” she says.

“We’ve learned all the basics of working in a restaurant kitchen. I love learning how to make different pastries. I think I want to become a specialised pastry chef in the future.”

Targeting the creation of more jobs for women in this male-dominated sector in Lebanon, the restaurant agreed to take on a group of ten female interns.

As her training – implemented through UNICEF partner Anera - ended, Maha was delighted to receive the news that she would be one of those selected for the paid internship at Baytna Express.

Head Chef at Baytna Express, Chef Rabih Abdel Nasser Al-Hayek, is an enthusiastic advocate of the Cash for Work programme.

"We hope that this experience helps them build their futures"

“I am delighted to collaborate with Anera and UNICEF by providing mentorship to these young women. We hope that this experience helps them build their futures”, he says.

“They learned how to assist the lead chef in the kitchen, especially during peak hours when things get hectic. They also learned about hygiene and health regulations in the kitchen, safety measures, and pastry preparation.”

Twenty-one-year-old Iman dropped out of school in the ninth grade. She applied to join the UNICEF-support programme and discovered a passion for traditional food preservation techniques.

“I loved learning how to make preserved foods like pickles, jams, aged cheeses, and labneh products”.

Inspired by her experiences and empowered by the newly acquired knowledge, Iman plans to start her own business and has already begun preparing pickles and dried herbs and selling them from home.

Sama, 19 years, one of the participants in the Cash 4 Work programme
UNICEF2022/Fouad-Choufany/Lebanon

Sama also left school in the ninth grade. The nineteen-year-old is a refugee from Syria had quit her studies to find work and help support her family financially.

“What I loved the most about this experience was the sense of family among the students and our mentors,” she says. “I felt I belonged.”

The experience of working well under pressure has helped Sama define a purposeful future.

Empowered by her training and experience, Sama announces, “I have more confidence in myself and my abilities. And now, I have no doubts about what I want to do for the rest of my life. I hope they hire me full-time!”

The restaurant is hiring four of the young trainees in full-time positions, and Baytna Express Head Chef Rabih will provide referrals and recommendations for the remaining course graduates to other restaurants in northern Lebanon.