As you climb up the narrow stairs of an old building in Johnston Road, Wan Chai, you will find yourself surrounded by smell of curry. Indian restaurant is what first come to everyone’s mind, but in fact it is a cooking school called Taste of Hope which mainly recruits ethnic minorities as its trainees.
Taste of Hope was founded in 1997 by Kaushic Biswas, an Indian chef who has stayed in Hong Kong for nearly 20 years. It provides cooking lessons as well as counselling service for ethnic minorities. Kaushic describes what he is doing as providing ‘culinary arts training’ rather than simply vocational training. “It’s not just about the food. It’s about giving them hope,” he said. Kaushic came to Hong Kong from India in 1996 to seek opportunities. He recalled seeing many ethnic minorities wandering aimlessly in Chungking Mansions, a complex in Tsim Sha Tsui famous for being a gathering spot of non-Chinese immigrants. “They were lost and hungry,” he said.
Out of the passion to help them, Kaushic participated in a feeding program to serve them free meals, but soon he realised that it was inadequate. “It’s good to give them fish on plate,” he said. “But it’s even better to teach them fishing.” Therefore, he started Taste of Hope to provide culinary training for them.
“Many ethnic minorities in Hong Kong are involved in criminal activities because they feel hopeless,” Kaushic said. He has trained more than 100 people, many of whom were previously drug addicts and prisoners. Being equipped with practical skills, the trainees find new goals and hope in their life again.
Having lived in Hong Kong for long time, Kaushic feels that many locals understand little about the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. For example, they cannot tell Nepalese, Indians, Sri Lankans and Pakistanis apart. Instead, they often just generalise them as a same group and address them as ‘Ah Cha’.
Kaushic also recalled his experience at the Hospitality Industry Training and Development Centre where he got his Trainer Chef qualification. “The registry just rejected me,” he said. “They kept on saying that the course is not suitable for a non-local like me.” He got in only with the help from a Western chef instructor.
Many might ask, “Why don’t you go back to your home country if there’re so many annoyances living in Hong Kong?” Kaushic replied, “My children were born and raised here just like ordinary locals do. It’s very hard for them to live in India.”
“Discrimination exists because people only stay within their own group, not understanding others while complaining about not being respected,” Kaushic said. He thinks that there is a need to engage the local with ethnic minorities.
Joyce Chau, one of the co-founders of Minority Inclusion Tour (MINT), a student-run social enterprise under Enactus HKU, has similar thought. “Hong Kong appears to be an international city, but the ethnic minority group is often neglected or even stigmatised,” she said. That was why she started MINT with five other HKU students in 2012.
MINT was developed under the new climate of cultural tourism. By organising package cultural tours and hiring ethnic minorities as tour guides, local residents are led to explore ethnic minority communities, unveiling a lesser-known side of Hong Kong. This provides the participants with opportunities of intercultural exchange to eliminate interracial misunderstandings.
Having covered Chungking Mansions, temples and Indian grocery stores, MINT offers interesting alternatives to shopping malls and skyscrapers. “The participants were fascinated by the culture of the minority group, for example the Indian henna art which they were all thrilled to try out drawing on their own arms,” Joyce said. She was also glad to see the locals bonding with the ethnic minorities. “They talked about the difference in their cultures and tried to understand more about each other’s life. They were becoming friends.”
According to Joyce, ‘Demand and Supply’ were the major challenges at the beginning. “On the demand side, we did not have a clear target group at first,” she shared how difficult it was to find the first batch of participants. “We were unsure about how we could approach Hong Kong people that were interested in spending their weekends to know more about the ethnic minority culture so the first batch were mainly our friends,” On the supply side, they had difficulties seeking tour guides since they did not have any connection to ethnic minorities and related organisations.
“Starting up MINT and seeing how it gradually goes on track are the most satisfying moments in my life,” Joyce said. She admitted that running a social enterprise is never an easy job as there are many concerns like how to make it financially sustainable as it is usually not profit-making, but ultimately working hard to uphold the social mission and knowing that they could create an impact to the society make everything worthwhile.
In collaboration with Kelly Chan Yu-kei