Cooking up positive change in Myanmar



Many restaurants are facing an uncertain future because of the coronavirus. At this Indigenous women-run restaurant in Myanmar, the marketing skills shared with staff will be key in its survival.  

When Khamoom Chan cooks a traditional Mon dish at the Pao Mon restaurant in Myanmar, she’s doing so much more than feeding hungry guests. With every meal served, she’s preserving her Indigenous culture, earning her own income and helping other women.

This unique restaurant¬†is¬†run by the Mon Women‚Äôs Organization¬†(MWO)¬†and¬†employs¬†only¬†Indigenous women.¬†Many women¬†in Mon State¬†have little access to education¬†and¬†are more likely to be¬†victims of gender-based violence‚ÄĒsexual assault cases are higher in Mon State than anywhere else in the country.

Which is why Pao Mon focuses on skills training and mentoring for its staff, and why proceeds from the restaurant support survivors.

Woman cooking

Khamoom Chan in 2017.

‚ÄúWe help them to go to the lawyer and¬†to the¬†health centre,‚ÄĚ says¬†Khamoom,¬†who‚Äôs¬†been working at¬†the restaurant¬†for four years and is now general manager and head chef.¬†‚ÄúIf we do not help them, they cannot¬†get the help they need.‚ÄĚ

Cuso International has partnered with Pao Mon Restaurant since 2017, sending volunteers to provide ongoing mentoring and support for business development, marketing and financial management.

Mikaila Ross was the first Cuso volunteer to work with Pao Mon as a business development advisor. A veteran cookingschool teacher from Toronto, Mikaila helped the women develop a marketing and business plan. In turn, the women showed Mikaila how to cook with street-side herbs and how to prepare five dishes at once with only one burner. 

‚ÄúThese women inspire me with their drive, positivity and resilience,‚ÄĚ says¬†Mikaila.¬†‚ÄúAs¬†we¬†boiled pots of rice noodles and served steaming bowls of¬†Mohinga¬†soup,¬†we¬†bonded and learned from one another.‚Ä̬†

Mikaila was followed by Angela Baker, also a Toronto veteran in the restaurant industry. She worked with Khamoom to identify the areas needing the most feedback.

Cuso International volunteer Angela Baker in 2019.

‚ÄúWe arrived at the marketing of the restaurant because‚ÄĮclearly,‚ÄĮthey don‚Äôt need any help with the cooking,‚ÄĚ says Angela. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve been working to‚ÄĮbroaden the audience and drive more traffic to the restaurant. In turn,¬†that will increase revenues¬†and¬†feed back into the¬†MWO¬†programs.‚Ä̬†

Khamoom and the others at Pao Mon have started a catering service, are hosting traditional Mon cooking classes and are in the process of completing a cookbook.  

May Thet Khine works at the restaurant as a cook, server and manages sales at the gift shop. She is proud to work in a restaurant that not only promotes Mon traditions, but that helps empower survivors of gender-based violence. 

‚ÄúI‚Äôm proud to be part of it. And I‚Äôm gaining a lot of experience,‚ÄĚ says the 20-year-old. ‚ÄúThe younger generation needs to know more about the culture and tradition because this is our identity. It‚Äôs very important we preserve it and let the world know.‚Ä̬†¬†

You can help support more women like Khamoom and Mi May Thet by making a donation in their names. With the global COVID-19 pandemic, Cuso’s work is needed now more than ever.