The Future of Hummustown and its Refugees

Shaza Saker, founder of Hummustown, explains her recent trip to Syria and what it means for her employees.

“Four of my Syrian refugees are thinking about going back,” said Shaza Saker, a Syrian-Italian woman. We sat at a small cafe near the Food and Agriculture of the United Nations office and sipped cappuccinos. Now that the Syrian refugee crisis is coming to a close, and Syrians are returning to their home, Hummustown has started to think about its future.

Hummustown is an organization that employs Syrian refugees to make their homeland cuisine and sell it to make a living. Out of the 12 refugees employed by Hummustown, four want to go back to Syria, but not right away. They want to save up money so they can travel back to Syria and open up their own business.

Five of the 12 do not want to go back. This is either because they have already settled in Italy, or they don’t have anyone to go back to. The remaining three want to move somewhere else in Europe. They most likely have family scattered all over Europe and they want to be reunited with their family in one country.

Saker brought her employees together for a meeting after her recent trip to Syria. She described the things she saw to the refugees. People were smiling, they had laptops, they were busy. “Everybody had a job, everyone had something to do,” Saker said to her employees. She spoke with radiating enthusiasm and energy about rebuilding Syria. She told her employees that their country needs them to help rebuild. Saker believes her trip gave her employees hope about the future and now they are starting to think about what they are going to do.

Saker does not fear Hummustown will close anytime soon. She explains there is always a waiting list of three to four refugees wanting to come and work for Hummustown. This system was put in place because refugees who work for the organization leave to find full-time, more permanent jobs. “Hopefully in a year, I would like what people remain to be totally on board – full time,” she said.

Saker believes “waking up in the morning knowing what to do is priceless.” It is valuable to have a sense of purpose and direction in life. People often become depressed when they are lacking purpose or if they feel like they aren’t making a difference.

“These people have the same problems as we do. Stomach aches, headaches, depression, the only difference is we have people to go back to.” Saker said. She wants to make the lives of the refugees a little easier by fostering a community where they have each other. If the people don’t have someone to go back to, at least they can have somebody to go to. Everyone is treated like family at Hummustown.

Saker wants to correct the misconception that the refugees are coming to European countries to take jobs away from the people. “If they are good at their expertise, they won’t take your job, they will compete for it,” she said. However, these refugees are already at a disadvantage because of the language barrier. It will take months or even years for them to become fluent in Italian. It will also take the refugees awhile to acquire the correct documents in order for them to stay.

“The humanity is gone,” Saker said. She believes the media desensitizes the public to the crisis that is going on around them. With the creation of Hummustown, Saker wants to show people that these refugees are kind and loving people who want to make a life for themselves in this new country.