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Meet the Afghan Refugee Women Running One of Delhi’s Most Popular Catering Companies!

Meet the Afghan Refugee Women Running One of Delhi’s Most Popular Catering Companies!

This heartwarming initiative doesn't just empower refugee single mothers from Afghanistan, but also keeps their culinary memories alive!

Ilham is the medicine to my wound. I am blessed and happy to be a part of it,” says Farida (name changed) a refugee from Afghanistan who sought asylum in India after losing her husband to the militant outfit-Taliban, a couple of years ago.

She presently works with Ilham, a catering startup in Delhi. Just like her, seven other single mothers from Afghanistan have attained financial independence and are living better lives, all for the efforts of Aditi Sabrawal.

Have you ever wanted to grow your own food and vegetables on your rooftop? Check out this mini hydroponic growing system to eat fresh food here.

Ilham was started by Aditi, under the UNHCR Self Reliance and Livelihoods project, in 2015.

Aditi, founder of Ilham


Aditi, who currently works at UNHCR, used to work with Dastkar, an NGO working with local artisans to help revive their traditional skills. Due to the experience she had gained from the NGO, Aditi knew that the best course of action for the Afghani women was to give them a source of earning which they can manage themselves.

She soon came up with the idea of starting Ilham to preserve local tradition and provide livelihood opportunities.

Speaking to The Better India, she says:

At Dastkar, I handled the bazaars in which I managed the Food Court and hence the idea of tapping into culinary skills was born. The sole thought behind forming the group was giving the women a new hope, income, livelihood and to spread awareness among the people living in Delhi about the refugees.

“Understanding and assessing the skill levels of the refugee women was very crucial to tap into their enthusiasm toward work. We ensured that they are constantly motivated and worked toward capacity-building and exposing them to the market,” she adds.

Ilham: A Ray of Hope

Aditi met these women at an NGO, where they would visit with the hope of finding a dignified job. Most women at Ilham are unlettered and due to language barriers, were struggling to find a job.

The women found themselves on their feet with Ilham – a social enterprise which is now entirely managed by these Afghani women who have have the authority to make decisions. In 2017, they started managing the expenses on their own, thus becoming self-sustainable.

Ilham made its debut by setting up a two-day stall at Dastkar few months after its inception. The traditional delicacies like Nargisi and Shami Kabab, Kabuli and Noranj Pulao, Manthu and Baklava saw people coming back for seconds.

Since then, the enterprise has made its mark through various exhibitions like Jashn-e-Rekhta, Delhi Food Truck Festival, Bikaner House Sunday Market, Kukdookoo Festival and fests at different Delhi University colleges.

Apart from this – the Centre for Policy Research, European Union, Finland Embassy, US Embassy and many other embassies have placed regular orders with Ilham. It is also available on online food delivery portals.

For these women, preparing true Afghani delicacies is akin to reconnecting themselves with the homes and culture they had to leave behind.

For instance, cooking the mouth-watering Kabuli Pulao reminds Farida of the pleasant memories with her late husband, “He would always praise my cooking skills and even encouraged me to open my own restaurant. Making pulao is very special as it was my husband’s favourite dish.”

Meanwhile, Shabo enjoys making Ashak (Afghan dish made of pasta dumplings) – her daughter’s favourite. And Shazia is called the ‘Dessert Queen’ for making luscious desserts.


“Impact has been huge – in terms of their confidence level, interactions with the customers, and learning the local language (Hindi). Now, instead of us telling them about exhibitions, they inform me about the exhibitions they want to be a part of. These women are very courageous,” shares Aditi.

Aditi roped in Pankaj Nanda, an enterprise consultant, who worked extensively with the group and taught them IT skills to scale up their operations. As a result, the women can now make presentations about their food and operate WhatsApp for food orders.

“I have seen their journey from the beginning. They are extremely hard working. Their never-say-die attitude has helped them come this far. They are an example for other refugee women,” says Pankaj.

Moreover, the women are now capable of meeting their monthly expenses like house-rent and food and have also enrolled their children in schools.

The social enterprise’s progress can also be measured by the recognition they have received in their journey.

In March 2018, Ilham received the ‘Best Women Entrepreneurs’ by Delhi Food Walks and American Centre and their work was appreciated by the United Nations World Food Program on World Food Day (October, 2018).

From shedding their fears, anxieties and trust issues to making sincere attempts at learning Hindi and spreading their food culture in India, the Afghani women refugees have come a long way since 2015.

Also Read: Indian Man’s Tea Stall in London Is Empowering Refugees, One Chai At a Time!

To place orders with Ilham, reach out to them at: 9818944096

Check out their Instagram page here.

Image Courtesy: Ilham

(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)

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