Cooking Circles supports the work of the Alola Foundation because of the wonderful work Alola does with women and communities in Timor Leste.
Cooking Circles is a small project about building networks between women through food, recipes and cooking. Cooking Circles has both a physical, on the ground element where stories and recipes are exchanged and women cook, meet and eat together. The process is photographed and videoed, and this connects it to its other element, social media. The Cooking Circles blog is a collection of pieces about women, culture and cooking in Timor Leste.
Cooking Circles aims to help women build social connections for their own wellbeing, in their communities. It is fairly well known that when a person is connected in their community, their vulnerability to social problems such as domestic violence decreases, and their resilience improves because they are better supported to deal with illness, loss of income or family breakdown. Not to mention ‘downtime’ can be more enjoyable, having people around you who make you feel good about yourself, who you enjoy the company of, and who you have fun with.
It’s definitely not new that people can form connections and build relationships around food. That’s one of the main reason people cook, eat, and celebrate- it is the space that opens up for people to meet, connect and reconnect. It’s not new, and that’s exactly why the same practice is the means of social connections of the women of Timor Leste.
The second aim of Cooking Circles is to promote a positive, strong image of Timor Leste. Social media, mainly through the blog, promotes the women, food and culture of Timor Leste and so strives to build a wider network of support and friendship among non-Timorese women, the expat community in Timor, and other Australians. The blog helps do this by painting a fuller picture of the country, alongside the challenges it faces. Most of us here know Timor Leste as one of the world’s poorest countries, the poorest in the Asia Pacific region. It is only the second newest country worldwide established in 1999, the first newest being South Sudan, and I’m sure you can imagine the struggles that can come with growing into independence and coming out of poverty.
However there is more to Timor Leste than its struggles. Timor has the highest rate of female Ministers in national parliament in the Asia Pacific. It is known as one of the most spectacular countries to visit for diving, cycling, and travelling across. Timor Leste grows diverse crops of root vegetables in unpolluted, mountainous country, grows tropical fruits and has plentiful seafood. A lot of work has been done already to teach farmers about permaculture to help increase the quality and diversity of their crops, and to increase the amount of food being produced. The music playing when you arrived is by Timorese musician, Ego Lemos. Ego runs a not for profit, permaculture foundation and he has taken a lead in Timor Leste and the region in farming practices and produce. Australia could no doubt learn from the Timorese.
The Timorese people I know have recipes and tales that have been handed down from one generation to the next, during Portuguese and Indonesian rule, and the fight for independence. The people I’ve met are determined, compassionate, hard working, generous, and hopeful. Timor Leste is a magnificent place.