Vibrant West African Cuisine by Ataro Food

All around the world, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused serious damage to people’s lives. It has threatened the way we live. It seems no country has been spared, and public health, economy and society have taken an enormous hit that may take months or even years to recover from. There’s also a sense of uncertainty. Until a vaccine is developed and can be mass distributed, the idea of ‘back to normal’ seems improbable.Covid-19 is also bringing to the forefront the need to take care of our mental health. I have been talking to many friends and colleagues, and community members of Rise and Lead Women through our weekly chat that we started recently because of Covid-19. We often talk about our worries. Isolation, social distancing, worry about the virus, worry about our families, worry about our livelihoods and how we will survive if this goes on much longer. 

In our talks, I saw a reflection of what I was feeling in every single one of them. I felt very powerless. 

It was something that, in a way, I didn’t expect. Throughout my career I had been focused on building myself up and building others up. But this pandemic is an unprecedented event. I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted just how much it would affect our lives. If you are feeling the way I do, be forgiving of yourself, you are not alone. 

I also knew that I needed to take action. In a state of uncertainty and a feeling of powerlessness, I knew I needed to do something so as not to slip into depression.

As a leadership development expert, I believe the best leaders have certain things in common. Among them are generosity, gratitude, empathy, and a great sense of humor. Generosity is one of my most important values, and I have focused a lot of the content I shared with others, whether they’re social media posts or blogs, on the importance of generosity. If I wanted to take my power back from the pandemic, I had to start with the value I held most highly, generosity.

The moment I decided to help others in the midst of the Covid 19, I found myself feeling much more energetic, stronger and in better control of my mental health.

When I was trying to come up with ways I could give to others, here are some of the things I came up with:

  • Three weeks ago, I started offering a weekly virtual Q&A chat with small business owners who were feeling down and wanted to overcome the isolation they felt at this time.
  • Two weeks ago, I partnered with Rise and Lead Women to provide a 3-week free mentorship program to 12 women in business in the Netherlands who wanted to establish an online presence for their brick and mortar businesses. 
  • Last week, I made some hot meals for 28 older people and 4 of their carers. I self-funded this through my business ‘Ataro Foods’, where we specialise in West African Food and spices.

You don’t have to be a big brand to make a difference.

The front-liners who still go out daily, risking their health and lives to protect public health and provide basic needs, are our modern-day heroes. Our health workers, grocery store employees, delivery persons, and so many more deserve our utmost gratitude. They also need our help, in any way we can provide. 

For any individual, the number one way to help is to prevent the spread of Covid-19 by sheltering in place, observing social distancing and following all the advice of our health institutions. 

But I asked myself, is there more I can do?

I’ve been following and cheering for some of the big brands that I admire who are making a difference at this time. I thought to myself, these brands are making a global impact because they have the economic means. But even though I don’t have the same influence or financial resources, I can make a local or community impact as an individual, and through the initiatives and organisations I founded: BIEL Foundation, Ataro Foods, and Rise and Lead Women.

I first started by organising a Zoom call called “Founders’ Table Chat”, and invited women in my community to join. We meet every Monday at 2 pm for 90 minutes. All I wanted to do was to create a safe space and an opportunity for small business owners who have been running brick and mortar businesses to be vulnerable and express their fears without any judgement. Most importantly, I wanted us to resist the isolation each of us is feeling right now. I was very vulnerable and mentioned that none of us has all the answers – but we can all listen to one another, brainstorm and come up with the next small step we can take right now to equip ourselves during this unprecedented time. 

The purpose was to support each other because together, we can get through this. Although I didn’t have all the answers, collectively we agreed on one thing – we are not alone.

This meeting has been beneficial to each of us in a profound way. Through the session, I realised that many people in my community were worried about the sustainability of their brick and mortar businesses. Since I have some level of expertise in the online business including e-commerce, online course development and digital marketing and selling, I decided to offer a free 3-week virtual mentorship program in collaboration with the Rise and Lead organisation. We have conducted two classes, and the participants are already finding ways to move their businesses online.

Another thing I wanted to do from the outset but didn’t know how to was to provide cooked meals to the elderly and healthcare professionals.

The elderly are at high risk of severe complications from the coronavirus, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most of them cannot leave the house freely. Some stores only allow them to visit in the early hours of the morning. That may not be convenient for many of them.

I wanted to be a daughter to a mom and dad that I don’t have. I wanted to do this through my business Ataro Foods and my foundation BIEL Foundation.

I felt called to do this. It’s the right thing to do.

But I was also terrified. I was scared of contracting Covid-19 when I go out to buy ingredients or deliver the food. I was afraid not just for myself, but for my family, my children and the very people I wanted to help.

I flip-flopped on my idea several times, but I couldn’t have peace of mind knowing that I have the capacity and capability to share, yet was letting fear take over. 

I started researching and delving more into the safety measures needed in the time of Covid-19. But more than preparedness, I needed courage. Fear does not serve anyone, but courage will help so many.

I called a friend of mine who is already delivering cakes to help others. She connected me with a woman who worked with the Red Cross, Kim. Kim helped me to find a place to provide the food in elderly homes located in The Hague, Netherlands.

Last Friday, at 5 pm, I delivered the first meal for our senior citizens. I cooked the food with great care, and they graciously received the food. I gave all 28 of them plus 4 caregivers Nigerian jollof rice, plus Suya and dodo (fried plantain) and green salad. My husband drove me to the location, about 20 minutes away, and I delivered the food, without fear, but with love and courage.

It also provided me with a chance to share a valuable, tangible lesson with my children. Every day, I teach my kids about the importance of generosity, gratitude and empathy. I tell them to be generous with the little they have. I want them to appreciate the fact that someone has given it to them, and therefore they should be able to share it with their whole hearts. I want generosity and gratitude to rule in their subconsciousness. I’m glad they helped me in preparing the food for the elderly.

I plan to be providing weekly meals and snacks to older people in my community during this period of the Coronavirus crisis. I also plan to raise money by selling the digital copy of my cookbook and use the proceeds to engage more African cooks who are out of business, so they can be paid to provide food to the elderly.

My goal is to feed 1,000 older people and 200 healthcare professionals.

Embarking on these three self-funded projects have lightened my burden; my energy is now shifted towards something that gives meaning to my life – helping others get what they need. And this is just the start. I want to be able to do more.

Why is generosity so crucial during this time?

We are now living in an uncertain time. The entire world is faced with a crisis.

There is a high level of anxiety and fear around the world. This is a good time for communities to come together, and everyone capable of contributing to the current purse should start now. 

We are caught in the middle of the unknown. No one knows the solution. If there’s one time our leaders don’t have all the answers, it’s now. If there’s one time to build communities, it’s now. If there’s one time to show empathy and kindness to one another, it’s now. If there’s a time to pay attention to our self-care, it’s now.

So, again, when you think about all the people who could benefit from your generosity, would you still stay behind and just watch others do it?

When you do what matters, you are closer to finding profound joy and fulfilment, and your life will find its meaning which in one way or the other has the ability to protect your mental health.