At first glance Sorghum Sisters is a catering service, but it gives much more than just food. Born out of the Carlton Primary School kitchens in 2005, Sorghum Sisters is both a kitchen and social enterprise that provides training and engagement for the local female African community.
Unfortunately, due to upcoming renovations at the Carlton Primary School, Sorghum Sisters has had to shed its Drummond Street location, finding a new home in leafy Kensington. But, though the setting has changed, the driving vision, essence and energy behind the organisation remains the same.
“Sorghum Sisters is about supporting economic inclusion and social participation for community members who might not otherwise have had the opportunity,” explains manager Melinda Hall.
“Women from the communities sometimes really struggle to find employment. They’re mums, they’ve got family commitments impacting times they can work and often, in Australia, their skills aren’t recognised. It’s all about getting them out of the house and participating socially, building up friends and networks.”
Created as a collaborative endeavour between AMES Australia, Carlton Primary School and the Horn of Africa Communities Network, Sorghum Sisters first began by providing school lunches to the nearby Carlton Primary School.
The three pioneering ‘sisters’, Siti Ibrahim, Nuria Khalil and Rahma Ibrahim were all refugees from the Horn of Africa, who moved into the Carlton Housing Estate at around the same time.
“It was a joint project. The school wanted to get the parents engaged and make sure the kids had healthy school lunches, and AMES Australiaa was looking for a social enterprise,” says Melinda.
“We were asking the women what could they do, what they would like to do, and they said cooking and sewing. So cooking was a match.”
“They began by providing the school lunches and it grew from there.”
Now in the catering kitchen is Rahma Ibrahim and Nuria Khalil, two of the original ‘sisters’, and Souzet Yacoub, who completed a Certificate II in Hospitality with Sorghum Sisters before being offered a job.
Together, the women provide a variety of traditional dishes from the Horn of Africa. Beef or lentil sambosas – meat or veg pastry – are on the menu, as well as fatira – a crispy turnover, curries, and of course, Rahma’s famous injera bread.
But Sorghum Sisters contribution to their community goes far beyond food.
For other female refugees, newly arrived migrants and residents in housing estates around Melbourne, the Sorghum Sisters provide inspiration and proof that opportunities are there.
“For others in the community, refugees who might have it difficult to adjust in Melbourne – the Sorghum Sisters have walked that pathway. It’s great having people who can be role models – to say look at us we’ve done it,” Melinda says.
Through their training and volunteering program, Sorghum Sisters directly empower female migrants and refugees, equipping them with essential skills and workplace knowledge to fuel their future working endeavours.
“We try and give them some basic workplace knowledge, things that we do everyday and don’t even realise,” says Melinda.
“It’s a very different environment for them so we really try and equip them as best possible.”
And the training and support Sorghum Sisters offers the local migrant community continues to grow.
“We’ll keep going, keep training, as long as we are equipping the communities with skills,” says Melinda.
“Our goal has always been to help more people.”