BY ASSEL ALASHPEKOVA
In the line of promoting sustainable development, which UNYA has been following since September 2017, our Aalborg journalists went on the hunt for inspiring stories to share about people trying to make a difference in Denmark. This difference comes from the need to help the communities where we are living in, promoting a more sustainable living and raising awareness about practices that are jeopardizing the planet.
Recently, UNYA interviewed the project manager of Café Smile on Skipper Clements Gade 9, Aalborg. Her name is Stella and she opened the Café in September 2017. Café Smile has been offering an enjoyable atmosphere with a hot cup of tea, coffee or delicious cakes prepared by the volunteers, and at the same time fighting food waste by giving away free food and groceries to everyone interested.
- How has Stella started the Café and where did the idea come from?
Today, the café welcomes students, locals, internationals, refugees and everyone who has an interest in having a cosy evening in the centre of Aalborg. However, the endeavours to make the café what it is today had started far before September. Stella’s passion and career as a volunteer to help refugees started in a hotel in Aalborg. She was allocating incoming refugees in the hotel rooms for some period before they get the permanent apartment or house. The hotel possessed a family atmosphere for refugees, and the volunteers there worked to keep the peaceful and welcoming atmosphere among new coming refugees.
“There was a café-based gathering where refugees were offered a coffee, tea and some cakes and snacks, and played games, while they enjoyed the hotel together”, she says.
Later, the number of refugees coming to Aalborg and looking for a place to stay decreased and there was no need to keep the hotel as a hosting venue. Meanwhile, the necessity to keep refugees in an amiable atmosphere in Aalborg city is still relevant.
The Copenhagen Churches Integration Services had shown interest in establishing the “café-based gathering for internationals for Aalborg”. Stella was then called in to manage this endeavour.
“I started to think about a café, what the opportunities, the functions are. In the beginning, I did not even know how many people could come and be attracted, but now they come to know and then come back later”, she says.
So what does the café do?
It is a café serving different kinds of food and beverages, such as coffee, tea, cakes, lunch meals, dinner (vegetarian and non-vegetarian), sandwiches, burgers etc. It works twice per week, renting the place on Wednesdays and Fridays.
- On Wednesdays, it serves free sandwiches, cakes and drinks.
- On Fridays, you can find free products discarded from supermarkets, such as vegetables, fruits, breads and a wide variety of products to fill your fridge with healthy options throughout the week. All of these are given away in addition to free dinner.
Café Smile is targeting mostly students, both international and local, refugees, au pairs and spouses moving to Denmark. The café is a hub of different cultures where people can enjoy the food, the conversation and the great company.
However, this is not the end of its stunning offers. The café has multiple free board games for guests and café members to play. It is run by volunteers cooking and serving for the clients. Everyone can easily stay for a longer period and enjoy the day in the hyggelig atmosphere of the café.
Usually, there are around 20-40 people coming to the Café on Wednesdays and Fridays. The café has already led some events, e.g. music night, games night, pre-Christmas event. Those days, the café attracts even more people.
- What about volunteers of the Café?
Approximately ten volunteers work on a permanent basis with flexible schedules. Other volunteers engage infrequently and are willing to assist when they have free time. Some come specifically on Wednesdays or on Fridays, others come twice per month. Some volunteers are from churches, others from universities, and there are no age restrictions. Most volunteers are students, both local and international, open-minded and sociable to engage with the guests. Stella prepares the ideas for cooking and volunteers do the job. In certain cases, a volunteer cook has been assured to prepare special meals. Since this place is a melting pot of cultures, Stella sometimes arranges special ethnic meals to be prepared by volunteers. They pour their heart and soul into preparing something from their culture and share it for free with the guests of the café. And what UNYA has been able to taste so far has left us drooling and looking forward to the next meal!
- How does the café manage with giving away the free groceries?
There is an agreement with the churches that have been already engaged in free groceries sharing in Aalborg. The products come from the supermarkets and other stores, gathered three times per week. One church gives away the products on Mondays, the other on Wednesdays, and Café Smile on Fridays. The groceries to be donated are carefully selected by people specifically entitled to check and deliver products to the points. Thus, the free groceries that you will be getting home with you are still in good condition to prepare yummy meals and keep your diet healthy throughout the week.
- How does Stella foresee the future of the Café?
Café Smile has been running up to now as a completely free of charge place to get your drinks and food. Stella and her team are hoping for the café to reveal successful operation. They have now found a new permanent venue to offer you their yummy products at very affordable prices and to offer discounts for beverages for students, internationals and people in need. Therefore, you are very welcome to go to try it for free during this period. The Friday free groceries are not going to be continued in a permanent place but will be still offered in other venues.
Once they move to the permanent venue, they will continue creating a peaceful atmosphere for those coming from abroad and wanting to meet locals, share their culture and alleviate the costs of life in Denmark. They believe that a “smile is the shortest distance between two people. It creates a contact even if the language is different”. And, as Stella says, they want to “meet people as they are”, and they DO!
Café Smile is open Wednesdays and Fridays, 16:00 – 20:00. Look for it on Skipper Clements Gade 9 and follow them on their Facebook page for updates on the events and offers they have.
The UNYA team wishes an outstanding growth to the team of Café Smile and believes that their humanitarian performance will inspire other global initiatives towards the formation of a more peaceful and harmonious society!
Following one of the missions of UNYA, to promote and raise awareness about Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the following SDGs are identified to have been addressed by Café Smile: