1951 Coffee Company holds event celebrating World Refugee Day

Amanda Ramirez/Staff

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As part of World Refugee Day, the 1951 Coffee Company hosted an event Wednesday and invited the Berkeley community to celebrate that day with refugees in the East Bay.

During the “Refugee Resettlement Experience” event, cafe employees set up booths with signs in different languages in order to simulate for the customers what life is like for recently settled refugees, who often struggle with a language barrier. The event showed customers what challenges a refugee must undergo, which include conversing with government authorities, finding housing and finding sources of income.

The visitors had the chance to eat original Syrian food in the “cultural courtyard” provided by one of the refugee employes who started her own catering business. Shirts designed by the employees with the cafe’s name in different languages were sold in the courtyard as well.

“I’m happy, people came here and had … experience(d) what it is to be a refugee, to start a new life in a country,” said Ali Fayazi, manager of the 1951 Coffee Company cafe on Channing Way.

Fayazi said he was born in Iran and has been in the United States for two years. Before coming to the United States he lived in Afghanistan, the home country of his parents, and then fled to Indonesia, where he registered himself as a refugee.

Fayazi said he hopes to go to community college and study business because he was an economics major in Afghanistan. Although he is far from his family, he said he is glad to be in the United States to pursue his dreams.

“I have a dream and a future in this country,” Fayazi said.

The nonprofit coffee shop was founded in 2015 by Doug Hewitt and Rachel Taber with the goal to give refugees insight into the coffee industry, according to Dee Um, a barista trainer and program manager at 1951 Coffee Company. Their team includes up to 12 baristas with refugee backgrounds and eight office employees..

“Coffee 1951 provides a dignified working environment. … Working in coffee shops places refugees in the center of gathering places in the American society,” Um said.

The company’s name derives from the United Nations refugee convention that was approved in 1951, according to the company’s website. Um said the company runs another cafe training program in Oakland where between 60 and 70 refugees are being taught.

According to Um, the company intends to expand to San Diego and plans to open new branches in the East Bay soon where baristas with refugee backgrounds will be employed.

“The simulation gave you an inspiring, humbling experience,” said a customer. “It put in perspective the struggles people go through. … Smile, be kind to the person who makes your coffee.”

Contact Jan Schuermann at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Jan_182.