IT has been a year since a couple from Syria opened a cafe showcasing food from their roots.

Fatema Kawaf helped her husband Abdul Kattan set up his dream, The Olive Branch cafe in Wivenhoe, employing refugees fleeing conflict there.

The couple married in Syria in 2009 and moved to Wivenhoe while Dr Kawaf, 32, worked at Essex University.

Conflict broke out in Syria a couple of years later and the couple say it was a shock to everyone - they opened the cafe as a sign of hope.

Fatema said: "The first year has been a great success. It was indeed a lot better than we expected, a dream that has come true.

"It is like Wivenhoe has been waiting for this for a long time, The Olive Branch fitted in very well with the community and received a lot of support and encouragement. It has also been extremely popular with the vegan and vegetarian community.

"The beauty of it is a lot of our customers are passionate- passionate about veganism, passionate about Syria, passionate about who we are and what we are doing."

She said it has been refreshing seeing people talking about Syria as a beautiful country, rather than focussing on the terrible things happening there.

She added: "Those events are not everything Syria is, those are not our memories of home and we hope they won’t be all what people would know of Syria forever.

"What’s happening in Syria is terribly sad, it’s still beyond our comprehension, we still struggle to accept the reality of what’s going on. This war has cost us all a lot of pain and heartache and if I ever had a magic wand I would swoosh it about and make the world a better place. We have shielded our five-year-old daughter from all of this, we never wanted her to be aware of what’s going on.

"She loves Syria even though she’s never been there, she talks about her family over there with passion, luckily The Olive Branch has helped introduce her to a beautiful version of Syria."

The family is looking for ways to grow but are grateful for what they have at this time.

Initially they started with two Syrian refugees working alongside Abdul with food prepping, along with three local residents who work in front of house.

Dr Kawaf said: "The idea of employing Syrian refugees or training them was always with us, we wanted to offer them the chance of working in the UK as we have first hand experience of how difficult it is to work in a country you understand very little about.

"We are proud that we could offer two of the Syrian refugees work experience with us that lasted for several months. The refugees who worked with us have now moved on to focus on studying English and other courses and we wish them all the best, we are very happy to have given them the stepping stone they needed work wise.

"We are open to having more refugees either for work training or for employment as and when a suitable person comes a long and we hope to keep this initiative open and grow it bigger with time."

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