Cooking up Opportunities with San Diego’s MAKE Projects


Here in San Diego, there is a pop-up restaurant and urban farm that serves delicious, authentic, global cuisine, as well as offering a new start for women refugees and immigrants from around the world. MAKE Café, the social enterprise arm of non-profit organization, MAKE Projects, is a very special outdoor eatery in North Park where each dish is inspired by the stories of the refugee and immigrant women who prepare them – reflecting over 26 countries! Together with MAKE Projects’ skilled training staff, the program participants create a unique farm-to-table dining experience for MAKE Café customers. MAKE Café also employs low-income youth from refugee and immigrant backgrounds. The program offers 8 to 12 weeks of paid work experience, tailored English language classes, job readiness skills training and helps graduates find permanent jobs after MAKE Café. This model allows MAKE Projects to keep helping more and more refugee and immigrant women and youth develop essential job readiness skills, while also becoming a self-sustaining social enterprise. SDG&E supports this work as a part of an initiative to invest in the economic prosperity of our region, enable diversity in the workforce, and remove access barriers to success.

After facing much hardship stemming from political conflict and displacement, the program empowers refugee women to achieve the career and educational paths they desire. For youth participants, the MAKE Café is a place to develop their social skills and professional confidence so they too can aspire and realize their dreams. Program graduate, Muna, shares the positive impact the experience had on her life. Muna travelled a long journey from a refugee camp in Ethiopia to San Diego where she now lives with her husband and children. While Muna diligently attended ESL classes, she admitted, “I knew vocabulary, but I did not know how to use the words. I did have confidence speaking. I was so scared. I thought, ‘I cannot work.” Since graduating from the program this past October and getting a job, Muna proudly shares, “Now I believe in myself. MAKE has taught me I can do anything!”

Moreover, MAKE Projects makes San Diego more diverse by sharing everyone’s international heritage within our broader community. Rather than expecting refugees and immigrants diminish their cultural identify and assimilate, MAKE Care creates a space for everyone to embrace and celebrate all our rich cultural identities here in San Diego.

Executive Director, Anchi Mei, illustrates this, “We see strength and assets in everyone – and MAKE Café turns it into a positive asset, while also teaching us inclusion and reducing prejudice. We hear so much about the political strife in nations where refugees originate from, often diminishing places to tragic, negative headlines. Here, the everyday happiness and pride these amazing people and peoples get to shine through. It is a true marvel to see the whole world coming together peacefully in a little North Park kitchen.”

Since its inception in 2017, more than 250 refugee and immigrant individuals have been supported by MAKE Projects. San Diego is culturally brighter because of efforts of this life-changing work, and families new to our region are given the chance to grow and prosper.


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Esteban Villanueva