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Catering Hope and Change in Nairobi

Updated: May 4, 2022

Not far from Nairobi’s Ngong Hills, named for a spring from which rhinoceroses once drank, ORAM Executive Director Steve Roth and Kenya Livelihoods Officer Winfred Wangari welcomed staff from ORAM’s parent organization, Alight, in a tour of Siste’s Kitchen, a training center supported by ORAM for LGBTIQ refugees learning to cook and cater.

Currently, seven LGBTIQ refugees whom ORAM serves are enrolled in the two-month training program led by Sylvia Otieno, Founder of Siste’s Kitchen. Sylvia’s unique experience as a queer Kenyan woman who overcame adversity to serve others will give trainees the chance to grow in a safe environment and expand their network as entrepreneurs.

Participants in the ORAM-sponsored livelihoods programs gave 15-minute presentations about their progress and growth, focusing on the advantages of connecting their LGBTIQ refugee community with Caterer and Trainer Sylvia Otieno’s queer community.

Alight CEO Jocelyn Wyatt, along with several other members of Alight’s senior management team, joined Steve and Winfred in a discussion with the seven LGBTIQ refugees and community members who will receive training at Siste's Kitchen. The trainees shared with members of Alight and ORAM the challenges that they have faced on their respective journeys as LGBTIQ refugees, as well as their hopes and dreams for the future.

Next, Winfred introduced an LGBTIQ-led community-based organization (CBO) to whom ORAM is providing seed funding. Members of the catering CBO called Ronniez Delicacy spoke with the LGBTIQ refugees currently enrolled in Sylvia's cooking and catering training program about what to expect after graduating as they move on to apply their new skills in a business setting.

At the Siste’s Kitchen meetup, members of Ronniez Delicacy acted as role models to the seven LGBTIQ refugee trainees, as well as 25 displaced LGBTIQ individuals who are enrolled in ORAM’s other Kenya livelihoods training programs – hairdressing, barbering, cosmetology, and tailoring.

They shed light on their struggles to acquire business permits because of their status as LGBTIQ refugees and their desperate need for basic tools and materials to expand their businesses. A feeling of hope underscored their message.

An LGBTIQ chef went on to tell the story of opening Ronniez Delicacy, originally a one-man catering business, in Uganda just before covid-19 hit. He recounted attending CBO-hosted events catered by individuals and groups who were unfamiliar with LGBTIQ spaces, which led to discomfort and tension and ultimately drove him to open his own inclusive catering business, with the help of ORAM’s livelihoods trainings.

Despite the inevitable setbacks caused by the pandemic – the halted gatherings and widespread fears of sharing food – the founder of Ronniez Delicacy remained determined to fill the gap in LGBTIQ-friendly catering services in Kenya with his new organization.

Fast forward three years and that’s exactly what happened! Ronniez Delicacy has expanded to include four other partners in addition to the founding chef: a marketing specialist, a finance manager, and two assistant chefs.

In the words of one of the queer displaced individuals whom we serve in Kenya, “microbusinesses are important to LGBTIQ refugees because being a refugee in a foreign country; it’s hard to get employed. There’s no one who will give you a chance to employ you because they’re all so scared…” That fear is why ORAM’s work – and your support – is crucial.

If there's one thing that our organization has learned from visiting the LGBTIQ refugee communities that we support around the world, it’s that displaced LGBTIQ people are not only willing to participate in livelihoods projects, but are likely to thrive personally and professionally, and to share their success with their communities if given the chance.

The LGBTIQ refugees and CBO members who attended the event at Siste’s Kitchen make up only a fraction of community members in Ngong – and Kenya, for that matter – who have expressed interest in joining ORAM’s economic empowerment programs. We are counting on your support to make their participation possible.

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