Story by: Lisa Marie Corso
Photographer: Amelia Stanwix
Location: The Establishment Studios
We don’t condone theft in the slightest but Asanti Gerad has a personality you want to steal. The young Melbourne woman is warm, energetic and lively and after a few minutes with her you feel like instant friends who have bypassed the getting-to-know-you phase. It’s a personality that equips her well for her part-time job at Merchant Road, where she’s undergoing a hospitality and events traineeship under the initiative’s founder Jane Marx, and where Asanti also teaches her popular Ethiopian flatbread classes.
Merchant Road works with women who come from refugee backgrounds and have experienced significant barriers in securing employment and provides them with paid training opportunities. Asanti was introduced to Jane via the Centre for Multicultural Youth after she experienced difficulties finding work, the two instantly connected and Asanti joined the Merchant Road team for a one-year mentorship.
Outside of Merchant Road, Asanti is studying her fourth year of naturopathy, enjoys meal times with her family and the cultural and religious significance they hold, and tells us the reason why she is such a natural in front of the camera is because she’s “had a lot of practice on Snapchat”. We recently caught up with her at The Establishment Studios in Fitzroy for a chat and a dress up.
Asanti wears: Pansy Shirt Dress + Salina Boot
Hi Asanti! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Personality wise I think everyone would say I’m pretty loud, bubbly and talkative. My background is Ethiopian, my parents moved here almost 24 years ago and worked really hard. My dad did his Masters in Forestry Agriculture at Melbourne University and my mum did a Bachelor of Nursing at Deakin University. This sense of hard work and being passionate about what you love has definitely trickled down to me. I’m currently in my fourth year of studying naturopathy. I love natural medicine and very passionate about getting people to think about their health in a holistic way – mind, body and spirit.
And what path led you to study naturopathy?
I had no idea about naturopathy! I originally wanted to become a doctor but realised I didn’t love methods, chemistry and all the subjects at school I would need to pursue to become one. I knew I still wanted to work in the health field and did lots of research to see what might suit me. When I discovered naturopathy it felt like the perfect fit and also tied into my Islamic background where we use a lot of natural medicine. I was like ‘yes’ this is for me!
You work with food at your part-time job at Merchant Road Melbourne but how is food also a part of your family life?
Culturally and even religiously we like to eat as a family with a feast on the floor. Everyone sits and makes their prayer and it bonds us all together. It’s not always about how much food we have, it’s just about being appreciative that we have food and can share it with each other.
How did you and Jane of Merchant Road originally connect and how did you end up becoming part of her hospitality and events team?
I was looking for employment and it was really, really hard for me at first. I went to CMY (the Centre for Multicultural Youth) to help me find work and they introduced me to this one year employment support program with a mentor. It sounded great and I ended up being with Jane at Merchant Road. Working with Jane has given me a great opportunity to share my culture and at the same time teach people how to make Ethiopian flatbread.
Jane, can you tell us about Merchant Road and the services and opportunities you offer?
Merchant Road works with women who come from refugee backgrounds (it’s a bit of a loaded term but for brevity it’s probably best applied for explaining what we do) and we essentially provide paid training opportunities in hospitality and events to young women between 18 to 24 years of age who are experiencing significant barriers to securing employment. The majority of our work is focussed on managing and hosting events but as Asanti mentioned we occasionally also host cooking workshops.
And why is it important to you to offer a vocational opportunities and work that empowers these young women?
In a general sense, I strongly believe that work empowers women. It’s something that’s personally very important to me; I come from quite a working class background, where the value of work was really emphasized. I was also raised with the belief that both men and women deserve the same opportunities in life. Growing up in a small coastal town, job opportunities were scarce, but even though I was young and had very few skills, I can think of multiple times where I was given the chance to work and learn, despite a lack of experience. Looking back, it was these opportunities that eventually enabled me to support myself and build a rewarding, meaningful career doing what I love. Through Merchant Road, I would like to be able to offer the same career based experience and pathways for women that were once given to me.
Asanti, so what’s it like teaching people how to cook and educate them about your culture at the same time?
It’s amazing! I love it because I get to teach people the significance and origin behind the flatbread while making it fun and spreading a little bit of diversity into their kitchens at home. I feel if I just taught everyone how to make the bread without telling them the food’s origin it wouldn’t be the same. Being able to share the flatbread’s significance to my culture and explain how we use it at every meal is special to me.
Asanti wears: Clementine Jacket + Percy Jumper + Pollinate Jean + Oak Low Sneaker
How do you think food brings people together?
It literally brings people together because everyone comes to the same area to eat. Food can also create dialogue and conversations that force you to look up and talk and fill that silence. At the same time if you’re really close to somebody you can actually sit quietly for the entire meal and still feel very happy and content and that is the power of bread, meals and cooking – the whole process all together.
What’s your number one go-to snack?
A TV show you recently binged?
Game of Thrones! And yes, I was happy with the last episode.
How would you describe your personal style and how does it reflect who you are?
Coming from an Islamic background and being Muslim, in my religion it’s known that we wear modest clothing. But I think women in my community here and myself have created a sense of modern modest fashion! I was born and raised here, so with my style I try to blend a bit of the western culture with Islamic culture and find myself in-between.
And how would you describe Gorman to a friend?
I think Gorman is more individualistic and unique and very empowering. Most people are afraid to wear colour but when you do it makes you look and feel strong and bold.