When Tavakoli and her husband first arrived in Athens during the winter of 2016, they too were homeless. Like dozens of other asylum seekers, they slept out in the open in Victoria Park, a popular gathering place for recent arrivals. It was there that Tavakoli first got her inspiration to one day feed the homeless.
During the time she and her husband slept rough, a team of volunteers from a local church would come daily to distribute food to them and the dozens of other homeless asylum seekers and migrants in the park.
“We saw that the team was giving food to the homeless people and we thought that maybe we could do this too,” says Tavakoli.
Once Tavakoli’s asylum claim was processed and she and her husband were placed in UNHCR housing, it didn’t take long for her to turn her attention to community service. Three years later, she says, “it became a part of my life because I’ve been doing it for so many years now.”
Leaning over the simmering pot of ghormez sabzi – an Iranian dish of pureed dark green vegetables, chunks of meat and typical Iranian spices – Mahboubeh Tavakoli, 33, removes the lid and closes her eyes.
As the fragrant steam rises, she inhales deeply. It’s nearly ready. Quickly placing the lid back on the pot, she lowers the heat and turns her attention to an even larger pot full of rice sitting on a back burner.
Today, Tavakoli is making lunch for a dozen unaccompanied minor girls, asylum seekers under the age of 18 who have arrived in Greece alone.
After she finishes with the lunch, she will begin making their dinner before leaving the shelter to attend English and Greek language classes and an art therapy workshop at the Melissa Network, a centre for migrant women in Greece only ten minutes down the street.
Every Monday to Thursday, from 9am to 1pm, Tavakoli works as a cook in a shelter for unaccompanied minors. But this is only her day job.
Several nights a week, Tavakoli prepares home-cooked meals for between 20 and 50 homeless people on the streets of Athens, depending on how much money she’s able to gather together that week. It is an initiative she started not too long after leaving the streets herself.
But because Tavakoli depends on donations from friends and other humanitarian organisations in Athens, the money flow is not always consistent. Some weeks, when the money is really low, she’s unable to cook at all. “Sometimes, when I’m eating food without giving anything to the homeless people outside, I feel really bad, like I’m missing something that day.”
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