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Kumpania of Scampia: Empowering Women in the Kitchen

At this year’s Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, we’ve been lucky to have as our guests one of the most innovative and progressive social projects in Italy: chi rom e…chi no brings women from the Romani community together with Italians in Naples, breaking down social barriers through the power of food.

Naples has long held a tumultuous history for its natives, its visitors, and those from abroad who decide to make it their home. One particularly challenged neighborhood is Scampia, which is located along the northern outskirts of the city, famous for the “sails”, a large housing project notorious for organized crime. In Scampia, there is a particularly substantial Romani community, who are settled on informal camps, in areas already considered some of the most dangerous in the city.

In 2002, the group chi rom e…chi no, (“Who is Romani and…who isn’t?”) began to work among the Romani community in Scampia. Emma Furlano, one of the founders, said, “For the Romani it is very important that they be known by the others and move from their place in the parallel world of invisibility and darkness into the world of light.” Chi rom e…chi no began by promoting intercultural exchange between the Romani and Neapolitan communities. A shack was built inside the Romani camp to serve as a meeting place. The goal: to create moments of exchange and dispense the stereotypes and fear between the two groups. By working directly within this “dark” place, chi rom e…chi no proved that it is possible to build understanding and goodwill. The work started with a focus on children and young people and during meetings, the women of the camps would cook for all of those passing through.

During this time, the idea of food and the kitchen as key instruments to overcome differences was realized. By highlighting what is traditionally regarded as women’s work, the importance of the women’s relationships were elevated, and women from both groups found the kitchen to be a place where they could safely express themselves. As the group began to solidify, the kitchen became the concrete meeting point where exchange took place.

moussakaIn 2010, chi rom e…chi no began Kumpania, a social enterprise focused on working with Romani and Neapolitan women in the kitchen. Emma Furlano defined the Romani word kumpania as an interfamilial group, which provides mutual aid. She went on, “We want to say that we are a group that works together to take on the very important fight against all kinds of discrimination, ethical, social, sexual.” The women worked together in to improve their skills and build their repertoire.

Also in 2010, chi rom e…chi no alongside Kumpania began to be noticed by international organizations. In 2011, it won two Social Innovation awards, one sponsored by the Unicredit Foundation and another by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and BMW Group, the first such Italo-Rom social enterprise to gain that sort of recognition.

In 2014, Chikù was opened in Scampia as a space for intercultural exchange. Combined under one roof are a commercial restaurant kitchen and a social center that hosts cultural activities for children. Since there are so few socially welcoming places for children in Naples, it was essential that the workplace be adaptable and child friendly. As Emma Furlano explained, “Children are the base and all of the women who work with us are mothers. If we want to work together, we must consider their children, too.”

Currently, there are ten women in the kitchen. It is a priority that they work under fair labor rights and be respected as employees and as people. Chi rom e…chi no also provides advocacy and legal support for the women. Altogether their work combines gastronomic, cultural, social and pedagogical experiences. The focus is to fight against external prejudices and so far this small experiment is succeeding in establishing a network of support and community among Romani and Neapolitans in Scampia.

The future remains bright for this group of social innovators. Emma Furlano said they would like to involve more young people in Kumpania and in the kitchens of Chikù, as well as continue growing their network. Recently, they have made efforts to provide young women with scholarships for culinary training.

This small but mighty group came to the Eria restaurant in the San Salvario neighborhood on Thursday to present their dishes to the public. The menu was similar to what they serve at Chikù, a mix of Neapolitan, Balkanic and Romani dishes made using seasonal produce. Available to taste were Balkan sarme, Serbian burek, and gulash alongside eggplant Parmesan and codfish rissole. The effort is to unite visitors through the power of the palate and promote an exchange of cultural and gastronomic crossover among different groups – and in our humble opinion, it was a great success.


By Claire Ryan for Slow Food International

An Event by
 Città di Torino
 Slow Food
 Regione Piemonte
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Slow Food Promozione P.Iva 02220020040
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