CRU have been working closely with TERN (The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network), who are a social enterprise that support refugees in the creation and development of their own small to medium size businesses. One refugee in particular is Mariam Tahir, who is in the process of launching her business, Coffee With Kids.
Knowing first-hand about the barriers to childcare for refugees and asylum seekers as a refugee mum of three herself, Mariam is on a mission to make childcare accessible for everyone. Coffee With Kids is a community coffee shop for refugees and low-income parents, supporting them and their children by providing an affordable co-working space with childcare service on site.
As if Mariam isn't busy enough launching a new business and creating a home in a new country whilst raising a young family, she's also working on completing her Master's Degree in Analytical Bio Sciences.
We talked to Mariam about the challenges of being a refugee, and the inspiration behind her blossoming business.
Please tell us about yourself and your asylum experience.
I’m originally from Chad, and came to the UK in 2018 with my 2 young children and pregnant with my third. When I arrived I applied for asylum and I was kept in a hostel with my kids for 5 difficult months.
During my asylum process I went through two stages. At first we were in a hostel living in one bedroom with my kids.
As an asylum seeker you are not allowed to work or have access to public funds and therefore you don’t have the money or the facilities to cook your own meals, so whenever I wanted to go out to pick up our pre-prepared meals, I had to wait in a long queue pregnant and with my 2 little ones. It was very difficult for me to live in that situation where the kids are not allowed to leave the room and we are new in a country with a new language and new culture. Without facilities to help look after and care for children when in this position, it’s very difficult to progress in the language and customs of the new country and it’s easy to become isolated and dispirited.
From my experience, these 5 months could have been much more productive and useful in preparing me for my new life in the UK once my refugee status was granted. For me, the only way I was able to manage my mental health was to go out with my children and meet with charities to take advantage of some of the English classes they provided.
During that stressful time I gave birth to my new child. After these 5 months we then moved to shared accommodation in the second stage of the asylum process, again to stay in one bedroom with a shared kitchen and bathroom with 3 other families.
At this time I tried to engage more with other charities to help me find somewhere to study, which led me to a mentoring programme which helped me apply to university and secure a scholarship to study my masters degree. This was the best thing that happened to me during this time but finding someone to look after my kids was the most difficult part.
How did you come to be involved with TERN?
One of my friends was working in his business with TERN when he told me about TERN and how they help refugees to start their business journey and provide them with mentoring and workshops. So I contacted them about several ideas that I had, where I then joined their ICE Academy which helped me prepare a business 'road map' where we have chose one idea and worked on it and tested it in order to collect feedback. After the ICE Academy programme, I joined the take off program where we prepared our business plan, financial plan, branding and website and finally the legal registration.
What is the concept of Coffee With Kids, and what are the next steps for it’s launch?
Coffee With Kids is a registered Social Enterprise CIC, and a community coffee shop for asylum seekers, refugees and low-income parents, supporting them and their children by providing an affordable co-working space and childcare service on site, so that the parents can work or study in the cafe at the same time. Coffee With kids provides warm and friendly community space for the parents and their kids
- Affordable childcare;
- A place to work or study;
- Snacks and a hot meal and of course coffee;
- Computers and good wifi;
- Employment and volunteering opportunities for community members
Currently, as part of TERN's Ideas Into Action programme that I have recently completed, I have launched my Crowdfunding campaign aiming to get some funding and start my pilot project and provide at least 30 hours free childcare for an asylum seeker family.
What have been some of the biggest hurdles in launching your own business, and what does the launch of Coffee With Kids mean to you?
There are a lot of challenges when it comes into nonprofit companies. For example, the legal registration, funding and the right partners - but the biggest challenge was finding a suitable venue (low cost and not far from our parents).
What are the long term goals for Coffee With Kids? Where do you see the business in the few years to come?
Coffee With Kids's main goal is to provide an affordable or free childcare service, co-working space and employment opportunities for asylum seekers, refugees, or low income parents to help them integrate into the community. For the next few years, our vision is to have a Coffee With Kids branch in every London borough and eventually, all over the UK.
The theme of 2022 Refugee Week is “Healing.” What does this mean to you?
Being an asylum seeker is one of the biggest challenges that could ever happen to anyone. The hostile environment causes isolation and loneliness and on top of that, being unable to pursue your education or practising activities you used to do may cause stress and anxiety among new arrivals.
To overcome this situation you need to work very hard to keep your mental health and well-being and grab any chance or little support that you can access.
Volunteering, training, learning the language and socialising can develop a lot of skills and allow you to exchange experiences and build social networks which then help you to integrate faster in the community.
From my own experience as a refugee mother, healing means a lot to me. Healing means hoping everything will be better, focusing on my blessings and trying to look after my little ones whatever the situation is, also to support other mums who have walked in my shoes and their children became a duty for me as I can feel and understand their pain and their struggles more than anyone else. This is why I’ve decided to start Coffee With Kids and am looking forward to being able to offer as much support as I can in order to make their lives less stressful - and to spread love, healing and caring amongst our community.