The owners of Karachi cafe Mariyah’s Den are feeding thousands of flood affectees in Sindh through their Relief Kitchen

Maria Mushtaq and her husband Waheed Ali have also arranged an anti-malaria spray drive and nets for people affected by the floods.
Updated 14 Sep, 2022

The owner of Karachi dumpling restaurant Mariyah’s Den, Maria Mushtaq, and her husband Waheed Ali have set up a Relief Kitchen in flood affected areas of Sindh to help feed people affected by the floods. Their initiative has been supported by many others who have contributed to it financially and otherwise. It has been over two weeks to the project and it has grown to include providing nets to protect people in malaria-prone areas and prevention via an eradication spray drive.

Mushtaq told Images they started this initiative on August 28 after they saw how destructive the rains had become. “Me and my husband were trying to figure out what we can do. Giving money is one thing but doing something more like giving your your time and being in a place is extremely important for us.”

She explained how the couple brainstormed and turned an idea into reality. “When such a natural calamity strikes, there are three things that are greatly needed — medical care, temporary shelter and food. We can’t arrange medical camps because we are not professionally trained doctors. For shelter, we tried to find tents but at that time they were unavailable in Karachi. Then we thought since we have a cafe named Mariyah’s Den where we have to manage a kitchen and cook, we can just go and set up a kitchen where we can make fresh food and serve people.”

They travelled to Khairpur where they were greatly aided by the Indus Resource Centre (IRC) when it came to accommodation and travel. The NGO provided them space in their guesthouse and helped with the logistics. “We’re living here and we have set up a cloud kitchen where on day one we prepared six daigs [large pots] which was food for 1,000 people. Today [Tuesday] was day 16 for us where we prepared food for around 5,000 people, [which was] 22 *daigs,”* said Mushtaq.

“When we arrived here, me and my husband had some funds that we had saved up for holidays. We said this could be the best use for the holiday money and let’s just do something more substantial,” she said. “From thereon, some friends of ours sent us more money, someone donated a tandoor, someone sent flour. We received flour, rice, spices. We bought huge daigs, put the tandoor in our car and drove here to Khairpur.”

The couple did a need-based assessment of the areas where flood-affected people had gathered by visiting them before they started cooking and distributing food. “It took us two days to set up this kitchen and prepare everything. We hired a local cook who had one helper at first, now he has three helpers. Then we talked to naan vendors here, they arrive at three in the morning and start their work as they have to make 3,000 to 4,000 naans till 12. We set this up and started working. Then we covered two sites, then three, then four, then five — today we covered 11 sites.”

As per the concept of a cloud kitchen which relies on delivery and takeout, the food is cooked in one place, packed and then the teams transport the food according to the requirement of the area. Mushtaq said they established a policy on day one that people are to be fed on the spot. “No one can take the food anywhere, they can have however much they want but take their time and sit and eat.”

She also revealed that they serve women and children before the men — in shifts. “A lot of people have asked about the women and children first rule, even people here were surprised. In fact, on the first day some men spoke out against it as well. We told them that the women and children here are always served after the men, they’re served whatever is left, and it shows when you see how malnourished the kids are on sight. The women also look physically weak because they deliver so many children and don’t get enough food,” she explained.

The cafe owner said in the beginning their focus was food but with time and after speaking to the locals, it shifted to other things as well. “We found out that the stagnant flood water is influencing a lot of malaria-carrying mosquitos to reproduce. People are really bothered by it, they can’t sleep at night and their cattle are breaking their ropes loose and running away.

“We thought about what we can do, tried to find out from Karachi and someone donated us a thermal gun, a company gave us fuel. In that gun, petrol or diesel are added and a medicine is needed. We received the thermal gun and the medicine, and started a malaria eradication spray drive.” Mushtaq said they’ve carried out this work, which is done around sunset time, in the city of Kot Diji and in the suburbs of Khairpur, including Moosani Goth and Tando Masti.

One good idea only led to another. The couple realised that they can only do so much without the government’s help as the area that needs to be covered is much too large. “Then Waheed came up with the idea of setting up communal nets. You make a large sized netted area where people, their kids and their cattle can sleep in peace,” explained Mushtaq.

“For the last two days, we have been working on this and have curated seven nets. The size of the nets is 10 by 30 feet and for this too, someone has sponsored the nets and local people said that they already have baans [bamboo sticks] since their homes and roofs have collapsed. We’ve organised a local team here that is charging us for setting up the nets.”