JCU Alumna Shaza Saker Launches "Hummustown" to Help Syrian Refugees

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“Refugees want parity, not charity,” says JCU alumna Shaza Saker, who moved to Rome from Syria when she was three years old. This belief is what inspired Shaza to launch Hummustown, a catering organization that provides job opportunities to Syrian refugees in Rome.

“Despite whatever expertise or skills refugees bring from their home country, they are at an immediate disadvantage because they don’t speak the language and they don’t have the network of support that would allow them to explore income opportunities,” says Shaza, who graduated from JCU in 1996 with a major in Business Administration and a minor in Marketing. Tired of watching from the sidelines the plight of innocent people forced to flee their war-torn homeland, she decided to take action: “The best way for these refugees to start earning an honest, dignified income is to allow them to offer the one skill that transcends all boundaries – the rich culinary tradition of Syria.”

Launched in March of 2017, Hummustown provides Syrian refugees in Rome with a chance to achieve economic independence. “Every day, Hummustown gives these hard-working people the opportunity to cook and distribute delicious food all around Rome. Since its inception, this initiative has helped more than ten refugees become more financially independent and, by extension, more integrated into Roman life,” explains Shaza.

Shaza Saker, founder of Hummustown

Shaza Saker (in yellow) with the staff of Hummustown

In addition to hummus and other dips, Hummustown offers a variety of Syrian specialties including falafel, stuffed grape leaves, and tabbouleh, as well as tasty desserts.

Currently, there are six refugees actively working as part of the team. Hummustown’s goal is to help more refugees attain full independence, to not just survive in Rome, but to thrive and be able to remit money to their families back home. Shaza’s ultimate goal is to see Hummustown succeed in portraying Syrians not only as refugees but as hardworking people who have a lot to share and give back to society.

Hummustown

Some of the foods available at Hummustown

After almost a year of successful operation and a loyal following of supporters, Hummustown has outgrown its initial humble roots and requires a headquarters with an industrial kitchen to allow the project to expand and serve even more vulnerable refugees in need. For this reason, Shaza has started a Gofundme campaign whose goal is to raise enough money for a professional kitchen, office space, meeting room and front reception area.

In addition to running Hummustown, Shaza currently works as a Program Officer for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “My experience at JCU, including an internship, shaped my presentation and marketing skills, which have been extremely beneficial to my career,” says Shaza.

While at JCU, Shaza did an internship at Orbit Satellite TV in Rome. After graduation, she continued with Orbit in Rome until she moved to Cairo where she worked as an anchor for Orbit’s Music TV shows. She then started fund-raising for her own TV shows in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East. She also completed a Master of Science in Marketing and Communication at Leicester University in 2000.

She advises JCU students to do as many internships as possible, both paid and unpaid, during their academic journey. “Students interested in fund-raising should look for opportunities to volunteer for the many NGOs and associations present in Rome.”

“The JCU Institute for Entrepreneurship is proud to support Alumna Shaza Saker’s initiative to give Syrian refugees a concrete path to economic independence and help them regain their dignity through Hummustown, a catering activity that provides jobs and preserves cultural heritage,” says Institute Director, Professor Silvia Pulino.