Nitharshini Mathyalagan

Nitharshini Mathyalagan

I am Nitharshini Mathyalagan, but everyone calls me Nitha. I am a Sri Lankan refugee. I’m 41 years old. I am self-employed in the kitchen and head of catering.

My life has not always been easy, I was confronted with war at a young age and lived in many places before arriving in France. At 8 years old, the war in Sri Lanka destroyed our home, businesses, and property, so we had to flee to India. But even there, we were moving all the time. After eight years, I returned to Batticaloa in Sri Lanka, to rebuild our house and take my Advance level in accounting and commerce.

I first worked in a bank, before joining in the UNDP project (the United Nations Development program) at Padro NGO. I was a project manager, and I helped women develop their business in rice production: sales, purchasing, marketing and so on… I got married but lost my father as the war returned to Sri Lanka in 2007. This final battle is no ordinary one. Children and adults were killed. Many women were raped and killed by the army. Most of the victims were women. I had to flee my country again with my family… This time to Malaysia, as a political refugee. We had a lot of obstacles there. I was 25 years old; my daughter was 8 months old, but I didn’t even have two euros to give her milk. I managed to find a small job as an accountant in Kuala Lumpur. At the same time, an NGO Tech Outreach Dr.Malar helped me train in baking/pastry and start my business: Hereshi Homemade Cakes. Before, I didn’t know how to cook, but I learned from my mother, my husband, and the Malaysians. People loved my recipes! I was very happy, and above all I made money.

When everything was going well, I suddenly got stuck from a barrier in 2022, my mother became very ill. I had a duty and responsibility to look after her. This affected my career a lot. But I didn’t give up on my goal and effort. I searched for a solution.

Thanks to this, my daughter was able to go to school, and I was able to get my pastry diploma. I even got education medal and Tech role model for women in need award for my progress. During that period, under the funding of UNHCR, I worked as a volunteer leading all the arrangements to set up a free sewing training centre named Hibiscus for the development of migrant women from Sri Lanka and trained many women in it. Then I arrived in France in 2015 with the help of the French government, UNHCR and IOM, however my husband remained in Malaysia. Once again, I have to rebuild everything and I encountered several obstacles, but I wasn’t depressed because I am strong.

One day, France Terre d’asile Mme Mathilde introduced me to Youssef and some volunteers. France Terre d’asile accountant Antoine helped me to create auto-entrepreneur and administration work. They helped me integrate while waiting for my family to arrive. I was the first Mama in‚ Meet My Mama. They gave me confidence and I felt even stronger. I’ve done lots of events and training courses, and they were all great. Moreover, I have always worked for solidarity. For example: I worked for the refugee festival. I also participated for a book of recipes and portraits in 2016 with Engage with refugees. Then participated in another cookbook and portraits Les mamas cuisinent le monde in 2019 with Meet My Mama. After having done many performances with Meet My Mama and personal. I made Sri Lankan and Malaysian food for Deliveroo from April to October 2019. This also worked well. I continued to work; the service was good before Covid-19. During the Covid-19 pandemic, I participated in food aid actions during confinement from 30/03/2020 to 07/07/2020 as a volunteer chef for the Meet My Mama and Refettorio association. During this program I cooked 50 meals daily for the homeless. When everything was going well, I suddenly got stuck from a barrier in 2022, my mother became very ill. I had a duty and responsibility to look after her. This affected my career a lot. But I didn’t give up on my goal and effort. I searched for a solution. The solution was to find a place closer to home.

Accordingly, I got a place through my daughter’s friend’s mother. I organized the place to suit my job as a cook. I didn’t have enough money to buy all the materials for work. So, I went to ‘La Banque Postale’ and explained my situation and asked them for a loan. But they said we cannot lend money to an auto-entrepreneur. My personal and professional account are in the same bank, but their refusal to give credit was very heart-breaking. However, my bank advisor is a really kind person. He told me that I should go and ask Adie Association, apparently, they help entrepreneurs. I immediately went to Adie Association and explained my situation there. After only two meetings, My Adie advisor Thierno granted me a microcredit of about 10 000 Euros. My cousin Thangeswaran signed the guarantee documents for me for this loan. Then I was able to do all the work and purchase equipment to create a professional kitchen. All these steps allowed me to launch my Nitha Traiteur (Nitha Caterer) activity. I got everything except the fact that I was back to a starting point in search for customers.

Finding clients for me was another challenge. During this time, my friend Sarah, Adie Association, UNHCR, Place Network Michael and the team helped me to get orders. And finally, I got to work in my professional kitchen, I participate in many events and fulfil orders. I offer Sri Lankan and Malaysian recipes. I even dosed the spices so that many people could enjoy them. For the future, I would like to get many orders to remain independent and work for individuals, more companies, associations and introduce my kitchen and my pastries to as many people as possible. Then, I would like to help and do some volunteer work to train people who wants to do the same courses as me.

Pioneer 20 2024 - Top 20 refugee women in the EU

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