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Covid-19: Entrepreneurial refugees try to reinvent themselves in quarantine

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Covid-19: Entrepreneurial refugees try to reinvent themselves in quarantine

More than 13 million small businesses, involving 21.5 million people, are vulnerable to the economic impact caused by the new coronavirus pandemic (SARS-CoV-2), estimates the Brazilian Micro and Small Business Support Service (Sebrae) in March 24 bulletin. Among those who seek to reinvent themselves in the face of social isolation, refugees who undertake in the field of gastronomy in the city of São Paulo compare the difficulties of the situation to those they faced when they arrived in Brazil.

“I had to reinvent myself again, just as I had already done when I arrived in Brazil, when I was out of a job and not knowing what to do,” said Yilmary de Perdomo, who maintains a Venezuelan cuisine buffet known as Tentaciones de Venezuela.

Perdomo arrived in Brazil on a tourist visa to seek refuge in 2016 and is one of 11,231 people protected by this status by the Brazilian government, according to the latest report by the National Committee for Refugees, published in 2018.

THE Tentaciones de Venezuela lost at least 6,000 reais in breakfast services, coffee breaks and gastronomic fairs, which were canceled as a result of social isolation measures to contain the progress of the Covid-19 epidemic in Brazil – the Ministry of Health records at least 4,500 patients and more than 150 deaths.

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THE delivery, the only service Perdomo maintains during quarantine, still does not register more than two or three requests per day. “People are concerned about the duration of the crisis and there is also the fear of physical contact with the delivery person”, says the entrepreneur, VEJA.

In this situation, Perdomo has invested in the sale of frozen foods and homemade breads. The entrepreneur sees potential, especially in the sale of frozen foods due to its practicality – “it is easy for the customer to buy and keep at home” -, and intends to preserve them on her menu after the end of the quarantine.

Venezuelan Carlos Escalona, ​​owner of the catering service Nossa Janela, invests during the quarantine in expanding his menu. Photo published on 26/12/2019 Facebook / Reproduction

Perdomo countryman, Carlos Escalona founded at the end of 2017 catering Our Window that just like the Tentaciones de Venezuela, serves typical Venezuelan cuisine, such as arepas, made with masa pan, the equivalent of corn flour.

The Venezuelan journalist arrived in Brazil about four years ago after denouncing a case of corruption in the public administration and becoming the target of political persecution by Nicolás Maduro's dictatorship. Escalona brought his parents and his girlfriend, who help to maintain the Our Window. At larger events, the project also has the support of a friend, Rafa, from Togo, a country on the west coast of Africa.

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In addition to suspending its plans to rent a fixed point to serve customers, the quarantine state caused a loss of more than up to 9,000 reais only in canceled events. “For now, we are practically stopped,” said Escalona to LOOK.

"The idea is to take advantage of this period to test various recipes and expand our menu", explains the Venezuelan entrepreneur. Escalona intends to focus innovations on the breakfast menu, especially on sweets such as a carrot cake adapted to Venezuelan cuisine.

“Considering our experience in 2018 and 2019, the first quarters have always been weak. The best months for Our Window are between August and December. But we have to see what the situation will be with the quarantine ”, concluded Escalona.

Syrian Muna Darweesh, from Muna Sabores e Memórias Árabes, and Salsabil Matouk, from Cozinha Salsabil, are also looking to reinvent themselves to keep their ventures active during quarantine.

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“When I arrived in Brazil in 2014, it was even more difficult. I was broke. Now we have a house and a car, ”said Matouk

Darweesh, who opened his business in 2014, invests in the sale of lunch boxes. She has managed to sell up to five a day on average, although there are days when none come out. Unlike Perdomo, the Syrian refugee does not intend to keep the novelty on the menu until after the end of the quarantine, seeing the lunchboxes only as a temporary solution. “Lunch boxes are a lot of work for little money,” Darweesh said to LOOK.

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Already Matouk, who has kept Cozinha Salsabil practically alone since 2016, is in social isolation at his home in São Caetano do Sul, in ABC Paulista, and intends to develop a daily delivery system for neighborhoods in the city of São Paulo. The goal is to end the delivery fee, which has been charged to customers in São Paulo since the beginning of the quarantine. Matouk tried to invest in the São Caetano market, but has not managed to make more than 250 reais a week.

With the cancellation or postponement of events scheduled until June, Cozinha Salsabil lost almost 10,000 reais. “When I arrived in Brazil in 2014, it was even more difficult. I had no money. Now, we already have a house and a car, ”said Matouk to LOOK.

Darweesh also compares the quarantine at the time of his family's arrival in the country in 2013. “I am as I was when I arrived in Brazil. I also couldn't get out of the house because I didn't know the language, the city and the people ”.

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Muna Sabores e Memórias Árabes has already suffered from the cancellation of events even days before the start of the quarantine in the state of São Paulo, in force from March 24 to April 7, as decreed by the governor, João Doria.

By the end of the first week of quarantine, five clients had canceled Darweesh services and Muna Sabores e Memórias Árabes lost at least 4,000 reais.

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