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Edmonton's Hooyas Foods among winners of 2015 RISE Awards

2015 RISE Awards recognize contributions that improve the lives of newcomers

By Andrea Huncar, CBC News
Tuesday, May 19, 2015

It’s a company owned by women, giving opportunities to other women, says Hooyas Foods co-founder Habiba Abdulle. (CBC)

It's a traditional recipe passed on from mother to daughter in Somalia.

But now three Edmonton entrepreneurs producing the triangular meat- or vegetable-stuffed pastries known as sambusas are being recognized for providing employment opportunities to refugee and immigrant women.

"We wanted to empower women and wanted to provide skills for women who have difficulty finding jobs," said Habiba Abdulle, 40, co-founder of Hooyas Foods, a recipient of one of the 2015 RISE Awards from the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers.

The awards recognize contributions that improve the lives of newcomers through community leadership, arts and culture, and in the case of Hooyas Foods - a welcoming workplace.

"For that to be recognized - it's really empowering - to us, as well as to our women."

Abdulle, who is also a program director with a family and youth settlement program, launched Hooyas Foods in 2012 with Halima Sarah and Sucdi Barre.

Their food processing company now provides part-time jobs to 10 immigrant and refugee women, as well as the Canadian experience needed to work elsewhere.

Sambusas: a taste of Somalia, helping women succeed in their new home.  Somali Kitchen

"When they come here, they have to struggle to settle in, and to get to know the city," said Abdulle, who received 30 job applications last week.

For many, language is the biggest obstacle.

"It was very difficult, because I didn't have the language skills," said employee Aisha Warsama, a former chef in Somalia.

Warsama arrived in Edmonton four years ago on her own. She was separated from her son when she fled the conflict, then lived in refugee camps in Syria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

When she talks about her son, her normally contagious smile vanishes for a moment, her eyes glisten with tears.

She said she's happy to work with a supportive group of women at Hooyas, using her skills to make a living in her new country, and support family back in Somalia.

But even for staff without a professional food background - sambusa making is familiar ground, which inspired the company's name. Hooyas means 'mother' in Somali.

"Every Somali mother learned that from her mother and the mother before," said Abdulle, who passed on the recipe to her own daughters, who help out at Hooyas.

Each month, staff spend five days at a processing plant in Leduc that supports start-up companies, making and packaging 12,000 deep-fried and baked sambusas filled with spiced vegetables, beef or chicken.

They are sold at restaurants and stores in Edmonton and Fort McMurray - comfort food for Alberta's large Somali diaspora.

"This is about the best one I've ever had," said Abdidahir Abukar, a satisfied customer at the Imaan Restaurant on 118th Avenue.

"The spices are perfect and the crust is so nice. It reminds you of back home at Ramadan time - the sambusas we used to eat back home."

The RISE Awards (Recognizing Immigrant Success in Edmonton) are being handed out at a gala Tuesday at the Edmonton Expo Centre.


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