Cooking up positive change in Myanmar

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Indigenous women-run restaurant is preserving tradition and helping survivors of gender-based violence 

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’s 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—sexual 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.

Khamoom Chan in 2017.

“We help them to go to the lawyer and to the health centre,” says Khamoom, who’s been working at the restaurant for four years and is now general manager and head chef. “If we do not help them, they cannot get the help they need.”

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. 

“These women inspire me with their drive, positivity and resilience,” says Mikaila. “As we boiled pots of rice noodles and served steaming bowls of Mohinga soup, we bonded and learned from one another. 

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.

“We arrived at the marketing of the restaurant because clearly, they dont need any help with the cooking,” says Angela. “Weve been working to broaden the audience and drive more traffic to the restaurant. In turn, that will increase revenues and feed back into the MWO programs.” 

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

“I’m proud to be part of it. And I’m gaining a lot of experience,” says the 20-year-old. “The younger generation needs to know more about the culture and tradition because this is our identity. It’s very important we preserve it and let the world know.”  

You can help us continue to ensure women like Khamoom and May Thet have access to the support they need to grow and thriveFind out how here.