Volunteering in Zagreb - Interview with Okoli Kikemolo

by volpower
5 years ago

In a lovely courtyard, just off Zagreb’s high street – Ilica – is where you can find Mama Veek’s Kitchen. Run by Ms. Okoli Kikemolo from Nigeria, this atypical restaurant has won over many hearts and even more stomachs. Named using the first letters of her children’s names, her African restaurant is different, as it has no menu or price list. Instead, Kikelomo cooks a variety of dishes every day (meat and vegetarian options) and serves you with a radiant smile. A basket labeled “DONATIONS” sits at the entrance, where you can leave as much as you can afford. The funds go towards keeping the restaurant open and feeding those who do not have the means. In addition to Mama Veek’s Kitchen, Kikelomo has founded associations, organised workshops and volunteers regularly through her restaurant and through other organisations. She has lived in Croatia for six years and says this is one of her homes. We interviewed Kikelomo to find out more about why she volunteers.

Blog post by Iva Dim, IRMO

Where do you come from? How long have you been in Croatia?

I have been in Croatia for more than six years now. I am from Nigeria. I was born in Lagos, but I am from Ondo State.

What brought you to Croatia? Why Croatia?

I married here. My children were born in Nigeria and they live there. However, they are coming to Croatia soon for their vacation. 

I think it was destiny that I came here, because I did not plan to stay in Croatia – but finally, I love it. When I came, I staid. I found somebody that I love and I started my life here. 

Are you looking to stay in Croatia? 

I mean, here is my second home. No matter where I go, Croatia is still one of my top two – for me to stay. Even if I die they can bury me here – no problem. I love it. I go often home to Nigeria to visit my family, but I am at home here too.

What inspired you to open Mama Veek’s Kitchen? 

You know, I have been doing volunteering with the Red Cross and with some other organisations, even back home in Africa – and when I came to Croatia. I have been doing the humanitarian kind of job in term of rendering service for people. Mama Veek’s Kitchen is about that – I have an association here in Croatia called Africa in My Hat, which I use to cook for people here and back home in Africa, in Nigeria more precisely. The idea is to feed people who do not have the money to eat good food or do not have any money at all to eat. It is to feed the poor people and for the rich people – or those who can afford it – they can come, eat, and make a donation. This is why we do not have a price list and we do not have a menu. We only cook with love and we cook for the people to come and feed their stomach with good vibes and good energy – and for them to then also inspire more other people in life. 

Your work is very inspiring. Do you have people helping and volunteering their time and effort? 

Yes! People come to volunteer and to show love to other people. It is not only Croatian people; it is people from all over. I have a friend from America and he is here all the time. He is always helping. I also have a friend from Croatia and one from France. They come to help – cleaning, doing the dishes, washing the toilets, and so on. People are trying to make it work, because they see how the place makes people happy. Their happiness is our own power – happiness does empower. 

Do you use your foundation in other means? Do you support other projects and foundations?

Yes, besides Mama Veek’s Kitchen, we support and work with other organisations. Sometimes organisations want us to make things together – I am hoping for more of that. Apart from the Kitchen, I also make the festival called Croatian African Festival, here in Zagreb, Croatia. It is usually every October.  It is huge. This is the fourth year. It is a big thing, where people come from all over – and people love it. 

Is there a big Nigerian or African community in Croatia?

No, but it is gradual. People are getting married and having kids, so it is not just coming in here alone. However, the community is open for everybody who is interested in learning the culture. 

How do you think volunteering has affected your experience in Croatia? How has it contributed to your sense of integration or belonging? Have you felt an impact? 

Yeah! I feel like this is my home and with this, what I am doing, it has given me joy. It has also given me that peace of mind that I am contributing something to my community. I try to be useful wherever I go, because people really need somebody to put a smile on their face – by telling them they are beautiful or asking how they are today. It is more important than any other thing that people can think that they should. People often think that before you can make people happy that you have thousands of money or you have to have… but no. It is communication, people just want you to give them an effort and for them to feel more energetic and to have that strength to push in life.