Cultural cook-ups help Pilbara women mingle

Far up the north coast of Australia, in the regional town of Port Hedland, a not-for-profit organisation is ‘Cooking Up a Storm’.

On the last Friday of every month, women from different cultural backgrounds, come together to cook and share traditional meals, while telling stories about their cultural backgrounds. 

Community Migrant Service worker Victoria Malyk, who has organised the cooking events since 2009, said it has significantly helped migrant women.  

Her position in the Federal Government’s Settlement Engagement and Transition Services aims to empower eligible migrants through targeted group sessions like Cooking Up a Storm. These events provide migrants with free legal financial counselling, disability advocacy,  social participation, economic wellbeing and more. 

“Living in a remote area, without any family support, many migrants struggle to make community connections and address their settlement needs,” Ms Malyk said.

“Therefore, the organisation connects these women, from culturally diverse backgrounds, to gain a support system of other women in the same situation as themselves.”

Run alongside the Well Women’s Centre in Port Hedland, ‘Cooking Up a Storm’ is supported by corporate health provider SMG Health that provides the ingredients, kitchen utensils and covers the location fee. 

SMG Health communication executive Donald Valencia said: “We aim to deliver physical and mental health services to deliver a holistic service, targeted to the specific needs of organisations all over Australia.

“With events like ‘Cooking Up a Storm’, we aim to make health and wellbeing an integral part of the event, by integrating cultural cooking, music and dance.”

Ariel shot of Port Hedland
Migrants in towns like Port Hedland can feel very isolated. Photo: Ian Waldie.

One major positive outcome of the event is the improvement of mental wellbeing among women migrants. 

Longstanding member Moya Ahluwalia said her participation greatly improved her sense of community.

“As an immigrant from India, the event has brought me closer to my culture. I’ve also made many friends through the events.”

Ms Malyk said: “There is a significant lack of mental health services within Australian rural towns, and especially for migrant women who do not speak English fluently. It can be hard for them to get involved.” 

Although the pandemic brought the organisation to a standstill from March until May, Ms Malyk is reopening it while applying social distancing rules.

Cooking Up a Storm is planning a five-day celebration for March 2021, where migrant women will showcase their cultural diversity through a multicultural lunch, performances and stories.

Categories: Community, Mental Health, Women