This year, the Happietaria committee opened its pop-up restaurant in association with Stichting Zuidoost-Azië (ZOA), a voluntary organisation that provides help to the enormous number of refugees currently living in Uganda. According to committee member Martijn Tel, 20 (a Communication and Media student), Uganda is badly in need of help: “Uganda has extremely friendly refugee policies, meaning that, for various reasons, refugees from all over Africa leave their own countries and embark on a trip to Uganda. It’s a good thing, but it also has a lot of downsides. Uganda does not have the money needed to support its 1.2 million refugees, and conflicts are arising between refugees and Ugandan locals, often due to poverty.”
Martijn says that ZOA mainly focuses on improving the education system, since over 60 per cent of the refugees are minors. The organisation also seeks to improve communication between the refugees and the Ugandan locals by means of education and solidarity, e.g. by organising conversations between the refugees and the Ugandans.
Opening a pop-up restaurant may seem like an easy thing to do, but it actually requires a great deal of work. One committee is responsible for finding sponsors, while another committee prepares the food. The latter is done under the strict supervision of a professional chef, who volunteers to be available for that purpose every night.
Finding a venue is a major challenge every year, but Martijn says the committee got itself a great location this year. “We worked incredibly hard to get this location, but normally, you need to put in a lot more work to create an actual restaurant. We arranged everything from the dishes and cooking utensils to the glasses and lamps ourselves, but the kitchen, tables and chairs were already there. We’re incredibly happy with this place.”
The restaurant’s interior is dark brown and comes with a long bar that can seat dozens of people. There are large posters on the wall, not just for decorative purposes, but also to provide diners with more information on the cause they are supporting. An enormous black sheet of fabric showing photos of Ugandan refugees hangs at the centre of the restaurant. It depicts women who are carrying water and children who are playing with a worn-down football. Despite these photos, the restaurant has a cosy vibe, thanks to the warm lighting and the colourful flowers on the tables. When you’re at Happietaria, you feel like you’re in a real, proper restaurant.
In addition to risotto with Parma ham and sushi bowls, this year’s menu features a traditional Ugandan meat dish with colourful vegetables. In addition, there is the ‘Civic Duty’ option, a vegetarian dish, designed to get even more people to make their way to Happietaria. Since the great majority of diners will be students, the organisers are keeping prices as low as possible: approximately €13 for a main course, and €5 for dessert. “We really hope that students and non-students alike will come and take a look in our restaurant,” says Martijn. “We made quite an effort to make it look as professional as possible. In addition to having a lovely night out and eating delicious food, you’ll be helping others.”
Happietaria is a student initiative annually undertaken in several cities in the Netherlands, including Rotterdam. The students seek to use the restaurants’ revenue to provide help to people who, for whatever reason, find themselves in a difficult position. Rotterdam’s Happietaria can be found at Van Vollenhovenstraat 15 and will be open for business between 8 May and 6 June (inclusive).