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Meet the Tiyya Foundation- Giving Refugees a Place in their New Home

posted on: Jun 29, 2022

Tiyya Foundation: Bringing refugees and immigrants together - INKLINE
The Tiyya Foundation is a Southern California-based organization dedicated to giving refugees a place to feel welcome in their new community (Photo: The Tiyya Foundation)

By: Riley Bryant / Arab America Contributing Writer

On a sunny day in 2021, while walking the streets of Little Ethiopia in my hometown of Los Angeles, I stumbled across a delicious new dinner spot crawling with everyone from singletons to large families. The food was top tier and came from all kinds of walks of life: Lebanese, Somali, Guatemalan, Fijian, and the list goes on. The best part? The restaurant- Flavors From Afar in Downtown LA- was staffed entirely by refugee chefs.

The food was fantastic, but even more incredible was the restaurant’s pure authenticity that shone through not just the food, but the atmosphere and hospitality. You could feel how personal the dishes were to their curators, and it genuinely felt like a taste of a land far away. The staff was friendly, and it was an all-around great time.

After my visit to Flavors From Afar, I wanted to dig deeper into what this place was doing for its community of refugees, most of which come from Latin America and the MENA region. That is when I came across the organization behind it all: the Tiyya Foundation.

Tiyya’s Humble Beginnings

Owliya Dima and her daughter Meymuna, who would later go on to co-found the Tiyya Foundation as a place for refugees to find aid towards integrating into their new homes. (Photo: The Tiyya Foundation)

The Tiyya Foundation, like any other non-profit, started small, specifically in the garage of one Owliya Dima, an Ethiopian refugee from Somalia that resettled in Southern California with her daughter, Meymuna Hussein-Cattan. Together, they faced the hardships of resettlement headfirst, and most honorably, helped their fellow refugees do the same. She was a leader in her community and helped to organize activities that made the once-daunting task of immigration into a welcomed routine.

“I’m just curious to know,” remarks Cattan, “how life could have been if my family had these types of resources.” Now, Tiyya has expanded beyond Cattan’s childhood garage, and now has several external programs, a full staff, and an office located in Tustin, California.

Tiyya’s Mission: Finding Refugees a Place in their New Home

Tiyya provides various services for the entire family, from family breadwinners, to stay-at-home moms, to students and infant children. (Photos: The Tiyya Foundation and the California Community Foundation)

Tiyya’s central objective is to create communities of support, and organize access to critical resources for immigrants, refugees, and displaced indigenous communities. To this, however, is no small task.

Tiyya is made up of 4 primary programs, each focusing on a different need within their refugee community: Mothers, Children, Economic Advancement, and Community Development. They host various programs that fall under these umbrellas, such as monthly socials, student tutoring, recreation leagues, career readiness and placement, and donation drives, to name a few. And, of course, for the culinarily-inclined, positions at Flavors From Afar are always open to their clients.

Tiyya’s programs have had a remarkable impact on those that the organization has touched. Past student participants note how Tiyya opened the door to learning proper English, or that their STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) days are the reason they want to pursue a career in science. Mothers have found solace in the welcoming company of fellow refugee mothers, many of which speak the same language or have the same customs. Many participants that were once economically disadvantaged can credit their livelihoods to the career specialists that Tiyya provides.

Grinding to a Halt with COVID-19

Tiyya underwent a full restructuring in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, including new marketing and services. (Photo: The Tiyya Foundation Instagram)

It has not been all sunshine-and-roses; however, after going strong for nearly 10 years, the global COVID-19 pandemic led to a complete halt in operations that crippled the organization, which was centered around the idea of socializing and community-building. Faced with unprecedented times and rapidly-changing restrictions, Tiyya had no choice but to restructure the way they provided their services. This rebuild took time, and many in their community were left to their own devices at a time when they needed help the most.

Eventually, Tiyya was able to reorganize their staff, pivot to digital platforms, and rejuvenate their presence in the region with a new marketing team and reconceptualized services. Many of the former offerings remain, such as tutoring (though now over Zoom) and resume building. However, new additions, such as college prep workshops, English-learning socials, and culinary classes, were introduced to provide even more comprehensive assistance in the ways that their community needs the most.

Moving into the Future- 2022 and Beyond

Tiyya is back with a brand new look, ready to take on a new set of challenges amongst post-pandemic global turmoil. (Photo: The Tiyya Foundation)

Since the launch of these programs, Tiyya has continually surveyed their participants to find gaps in what is needed- allowing them to be the most effective at serving their community at all times. Although their numbers have dropped since COVID, the easing of public restrictions has allowed Tiyya to take a more active role in providing assistance where it is needed.

Flavors From Afar is going strong, and I was able to chow down on some delicious Lebanese baba ghannouj, Somali veggie fried rice, Syrian muskhan rolls, and other mouthwatering delicacies from around the world. The restaurant offers a unique opportunity to try authentic ethnic cuisines right in the heart of Los Angeles- an opportunity that can be very rare to come by.

The Tiyya Foundation is an organization that is making a substantial difference in their community. Hundreds of refugee families rely on their services every year, and all are able to come out of it with a renewed sense of community in the foreign lands they now call home. So, the next time you find yourself in Downtown LA, I highly recommend stopping by Flavors from Afar to pick up some baklava and support the fantastic mission of Tiyya.

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