An Interview with Victoria, manager at Yes We Camp
BY NIYA SHEKEROVA
Victoria of Yes We Camp, is doing her civic service, a French volunteer system introduced in March 2010 to promote citizenship and public support of it. With the objective of strengthening national cohesion and promoting social diversity, the civic service offers young people the opportunity to take part in 6-12 month long “missions of general interest”. These placements cover nine different domains, recognized as priorities for the nation: education, solidarity, health, culture and recreation, environment, international and humanitarian development, memory and citizenship, sports and emergency response in case of crisis.
Victoria, who was behind the Food Project?
"The food project was created by Ema Lavaur. In the beginning it was only Ema and Clementine. Clementine was a volunteer doing civic service like I am now. The whole Food project also includes a few little projects: Food de rue, Les comptoirs, La lingerie (where the residents and the chefs of Yes We Camp collaborate in preparing meals), and the Menu. In 2015, Ema met the team of Yes We Camp, who were preparing and designing the whole project for Les Grands Voisins, and they wanted to have a coffee shop inside to generate revenue - the Lingerie coffee shop. Ema already had experience with various projects, and was taking a hiatus from her studies in Political Sciences, so she decided to get involved with Les Grands Voisins. She wanted to have an inclusive kitchen, which would link all the platforms already in situ. Well, cooking is one of the main engines of social inclusion."
How long did it continue?
"They started promoting and finding all the partners in 2015, and then in early 2016 the kitchen opened with something like 18-19 residents, mainly women working."
However, as mentioned by Victoria, only a handful of people have actually managed to take advantage of this opportunity, as the idea is still struggling to pave its way.
How do you think the residents will adapt to the change? What will happen to those who still need someone to lead them?
"Most of these people deal well with change, because they are so used to it, that for them it is not such a shock. Some of them never integrated that well - they are in constant need of people to help them find a job and get skills. Some are not even in fit shape to work, due to health conditions. And many lack motivation. There were so many young people coming to the coffee shops every day, since the bars opened their doors. They come to have a drink with friends, or to work on their expensive laptops, to study for school, while some very poor people are passing by just next to them - the residents don’t enjoy the place the same way. They come from inside the building, and many people don’t know what is inside. They admire the project and the whole idea and are grateful for it, but behind the scenes, there are many residents who don’t dare poke their noses out of their rooms. They feel suppressed in a way. I mean, integration, although a positive process, it is a painful one, and sometimes it just doesn’t happen, no matter how good the intentions. Definitely for some it will be a shock, but actually the foundation’s doors won’t be shut, they will just look for another place to move in."
Could you give an example of a resident who has been integrated through the FOOD project, and has become a professional chef afterwards?
"The Food project was most successful where people just needed a little push, like Ghada, and Jacqueline, who you already met. Ghada learned to cook for professional events, and she took several courses in baking on the side. She really regained her self-esteem and step by step built confidence in herself. At the end of the day, this was the mission: to help them get motivated again, find that they are worthy. But not everyone is interested in this. Now she is preparing many of the loaves of bread that we are selling with in collaboration with Food de Rue* on the street, which mission is to promote the integration and economic initiative of the public in situations of exclusions."
How much was a person paid for cooking dinner or lunch?
"It depends the time of day, from times when there are almost no people, to peak hours. So at Wednesday lunchtime, maybe 10€, but on a Saturday evening, 20."
What is your role now, since the project has finished?
"I am coordinating the external events, and trying to find jobs for the residents who wish to continue. I have a long list of contacts and organisations that might be interested in an inclusive kitchen project, so I am contacting them all the time. There was one interesting project called Le Baba, initiated by two students at Sciences Po. They were cooking for The Night of Poetry at the Arab World Institute in Paris. There Ghada and the rest of the team were responsible for the catering service for the entire event. We have been helping them find other jobs too, also with the training, and most important - to make professional connections. At least by now most of them have an idea of how a professional kitchen works. Those who felt more inclined searching for opportunities for this path, the rest left the idea behind."
So you are helping them in the transitional process, to find future prosperity and a professional education. Would that allow some of the residents who are economic migrants, or refugees, to obtain papers, or perhaps speed up the process?
"I am a mediator now, yes. I don’t know about papers; there are some chances, but it is not very common. This is another problem, because most of them need to be paid in cash, and not all organisations are willing to do so."
Are you happy with your experience here?
"Yes, it has been extremely enriching, I don’t have any doubts about that. I don’t know and I can’t say how sustainable it was and will be, I just hope that there will be more projects in future and possibilities for people in similar situations."
NIYA SHEKEROVA is a visual storyteller and a coffee addict based in Paris. She loves exploring the city's outdoors with her camera. And in the wide open air - green apples, country roads, mountain walks, midnight talks and olives!
Her Instagram is also absolutely amazing.
*The association’s mission is to promote the integration and economic initiative of the public in situations of exclusion; especially women, by allowing them to train in catering and to create their own micro-enterprise of street cooking, nomadic cuisine or street food.