A place normally filled with kids learning to cook, it was a bunch of new travel friends and expats on a Saturday night getting together, nomming over tasty South East Asian recipes and talking about an uneasy topic.
Dwight played Chef for the night. Chopping, slicing, mixing, stirring. But this is not your traditional cooking school. Two years ago he turned his home kitchen in Bangkok into The Courageous Kitchen, a not-for-profit project to support refugee children and teens. It’s part of his bigger initiative, In Search of Sanuk.
Sanuk is the Thai word for “joy”.
Refugees make up a large part of the population in Thailand and it’s one of the country’s biggest socio-political challenges. Families flee from neighbouring countries like Vietnam, Laos, and Burma, escaping from things like human rights violations and ethnic conflict in hopes of finding opportunity and a safer place to call home. Their days are numbered by a 30-day entry visa and if they overstay, they’re faced with arrest or deportation. Some are forced into the notorious Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) in Bangkok, an over-crowded and difficult place where people are treated as hard criminals, and denied basic necessities of life like clean drinking water, sanitation, and sufficient nutrition. If they manage to avoid all of the above, they live in fear, struggle to find work, and support their families.
In Search of Sanuk helps alleviate some of those challenges. Like Thai Freedom House, cooking classes at The Courageous Kitchen mean kids can learn a new skill, develop their self-confidence, and eat a nutritional meal. Through his charity, Dwight also helps find much needed shelter for refugee families who are living without a home (I’m told sometimes he even brings them rent money if they have fallen short).
How can you help?
Volunteer as a guest chef at the kitchen.
Give. Big or small, consider donating. $100 a month can help take a family off the streets.
Visit the IDC. IDC volunteers visit the detention centre regularly to drop off food and supplies (like baby diapers) to detainees. If there are enough volunteers in a group, you can “take” a detainee out for visiting hours for much needed fresh air and natural light. You can sign up at Volunteer Spot.
Teach. Dwight also runs a pre-school for about 30 kids of refugee families which I was fortunate to volunteer at while I was in Bangkok. The school gives refugee parents a place to drop off their children while they find a job or work during the day. It’s also a place for kids to interact with one another, learn developmental skills, and just be a kid – for some, it’s the first time they’ve attended school.