Young people in Tripoli, Lebanon are learning professional cooking skills to prepare them for quality work opportunities.
CIS College is a technical institute with 13 branches across Lebanon. As one of Anera’s local partners, they have implemented multiple projects and programs. Among these initiatives is our Youth Empowerment, Education and Employability (E3) program that is supported by UNICEF, with funding from Germany through the German Development Bank KfW and the government of Norway.
In collaboration with Anera, CIS College in Tripoli now offers a creative cooking course to provide youth with an accelerated professional cooking certification, giving young people an entry point into the job market.
Like most of our E3 vocational courses, this training consists of a theoretical component, covering basic culinary theory, and a practical component in which the young chefs apply their skills in the CIS college professional kitchen. After completing the course, trainees receive a vocational degree certified by the Lebanese General Directorate of Vocational Education.
The final stage is the cash-for-work component, in which students complete a paid internship at a private institution, a restaurant in this case, to gain work experience.
Anera’s team in Tripoli connects the youth with private sector employers that agree to offer the hands-on training and then hire the most committed students as full-time employees after the internship has ended.
For this course, the team selected Baytna Express restaurant in Al-Mina neighborhood of Tripoli. Chef Rabih Abdel Nasser Al-Hayek is the head chef at Baytna Restaurant. He is very fond of this mentorship program.
“I am very happy to collaborate with Anera and UNICEF by providing mentorship to these young women. We hope that this experience helps them build their futures.”
In the hopes of creating more jobs for women in this male-dominated sector in Lebanon, the restaurant took on a group of 10 female interns.
“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.”
Chef Rabih says all 10 of the students were good workers. The restaurant is hiring four of them into full-time jobs at Baytna Express. And Chef Rabih will provide referrals and recommendations for the rest of the course graduates to other restaurants in northern Lebanon.
So why are courses such as this one critical in shaping the future generations of Lebanon and the region?
Unfortunately, educational counseling and career guidance programs are a luxury for the majority of marginalized youth in Lebanon. Without this guidance and awareness among parents regarding the importance of girls’ education, it is very common for adolescents to drop out of school, and for others to get married or to find low-paid work in an effort to help with family expenses.
Iman is a 21-year-old Lebanese woman from Tripoli. She dropped out of school in the ninth grade. Iman’s favorite aspect of the cooking course at CIS College was the mouneh training, in traditional food preservation techniques.
She says she “loved learning how to make preserved foods like pickles, jams, aged cheeses and labneh products.”
Iman says she wants to start her own business. “I already started preparing pickles and dried herbs and selling them from home.”
This cooking training has ignited a sense of entrepreneurship in Iman and we can only hope that her tiny business blooms.
Maha is a 19-year-old Lebanese chef. Unlike Iman, she used to attend a vocational school and always planned to become a chef. But after the economy collapsed, she was forced to drop out because her family could no longer afford the tuition.
“Of course I was upset,” she says of that time.
“I love learning. After I left the school, I kept trying to learn more about culinary arts by watching educational videos on YouTube, and then practicing in our kitchen. It was the only way I could gain experience!”
Maha applied for the course as soon as she saw the open registration post on the CIS Facebook page. She was thrilled at being selected for the paid internship at Baytna restaurant.
“This is the hands-on training I want,” she says.
“We’ve learned all the basics of working in a restaurant kitchen. I love learning how to make different pastries. I’m thinking I want to become a specialized pastry chef in the future.”
“This is the hands-on training I want.”
Sama, 19, is a refugee from Syria. She left school in the ninth grade to work and help her parents. After spending years away from home in Syria and then enduring almost two years of COVID lockdowns, Sama was happy just to have a chance to meet new people.
“What I loved the most about this experience was the sense family among the students and our mentors at CIS,” she says. “I belonged.”
Sama says she gained the experience she needed from the course to be able to work in a professional setting under pressure. “We are still completing our internships. I love working here and I hope they hire me full-time!
“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.”
"Now I have no doubts about what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
The teamwork, the mentorship, the friendships and the challenges are all designed to empower these young apprentices and prepare them for thriving futures. As for the present, these youths are enjoying the experience, not to mention the abundant and delicious pastries!