In the coastal enclave of Gaza, groups of Palestinian women and men are getting seated for a course that enables them to learn professional cooking and serving skills.
Established in 2017, the school called Smile Kitchen is the first-ever one of such kind in Gaza. Specializing in teaching culinary arts, it has become a brand with hundreds of graduates.
The initial intention of the founders Ahmed Taha and his wife Nour al-Batta was to teach youngsters how to cook at home with natural and organic ingredients. But as the number of applicants rose, they decided to take further steps.
"In the first year, there were about 750 trainees who participated in the workshops provided by the school," said the 42-year-old father of five. "Now, more than 3,500 students have joined our school, where they learn how to cook various kinds of international and Arab dishes."
Besides, trainers also teach students how to serve the dishes based on etiquette, and this has motivated some to compete in local and Arab contests to win prizes.
Once they graduate, some join local restaurants, some prefer to work for international restaurants outside Gaza, mainly in European countries, and some start their own business.
"Cooking has been my hobby since I was a teenager," said Manal al-Khatib, a Gazan woman.
"Therefore, I come here to learn more about this field, especially about the international varieties of sweets and cake," the 38-year-old mother of four told Xinhua. "I had tried to make delicious sponge cake several times, but unfortunately, all my attempts have failed. This school taught me how to improve my skills," said the lady with a smile.
Having graduated from the school, al-Khatib is planning to launch her own business and market the products through social media.
"By using available tools at home, I can make sponge cakes, take photos, and post them on Facebook to attract customers," the woman said, adding that she would make some money to cover the daily expenses of the family.
Ali al-Majayda, a young man from Khan Younis city, is another student at Smile Kitchen. He joined it to learn how to serve as a barman.
Working as a chef assistant at a local restaurant, the 27-year-old young man hoped he would open his cafe in the neighborhood.
In addition to helping the students seek job opportunities, the school has provided them with the opportunity to be part of the competitions on cooking.
"In 2020, four of our students managed to win five medals, including silver and bronze ones, in a competition held in Dubai," Taha said, adding that "many others will participate in the competitions that are scheduled to be held soon in Algeria, Morocco, and Turkey."
Taha, as well as his students, believe that a peaceful and secure life will resume in Gaza, allowing the tourism sector to be restored and provide tens of thousands of jobs for the Gazan residents. "Our school is preparing an army of chefs and workers in this field who can be integrated into local restaurants as well as other establishments around the world," he said.
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