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[Photos] In Warsaw, Homemade Thịt Kho Trứng for the Homeless

The Vietnamese community in Poland started to form in the 1950s, and to this day, most of its residents are very active in Poland.

Many residents of Warsaw, the Polish capital, are familiar with Vietnamese restaurants, bars or shops, but not everyone is aware of the incredibly positive impact the community has on the homeless.

In 2017, two Brits, Andy Eddles and Piotr Podworski, and an American, Caleigh Furlong, set up Smile Warsaw with the aim of redistributing food and clothing to the local homeless and needy populations. Every Sunday since then, the group has attracted a large number of local and international volunteers who gather outside of Warsaw’s Palace of Culture and Science to serve hot drinks and food. On some occasions, they even offer haircuts.

The largest group of volunteers, by far, comes from the Vietnamese community, largely because of Nam Phong, who helped to encourage many of his family, friends and colleagues, as well as other Vietnamese residents, to join this movement. Nam, a photographer, journalist and activist, describes himself as something of a cultural bridge between the Vietnamese diaspora and Polish society. It is thanks to his involvement that every week, Vietnamese community members come along to help with food distribution.

Nam (left) with his son.

Around 150 people participate in Smile Warsaw every week with 15–25 volunteers helping every Sunday. A variety of local businesses, restaurants and individuals donate and organize the meals for the Polish capital's less-fortunate residents.

Whilst in Poland this summer, I was working on a larger documentary photography project about the Vietnamese diaspora in Warsaw. I learned that the Vietnamese community is not just active in the distribution of the hot meals, but is also often involved with meal preparation.

I had the opportunity to witness how 10 Vietnamese women, with some help from their families, cooked an incredible Vietnamese meal for 150 people in one kitchen. 

A group of volunteers prepare different Vietnamese dishes in a private kitchen in Warsaw.

Huge containers of rice ready to be transported to the Palace of Culture and Science where the food kitchen takes place every Sunday.

Volunteers eating some of the delicious food they cooked before heading out.

The team ready to go after spending the whole morning cooking. Children and family members were all included in the action.

Final touches to check that everything is ready.

A whopping 200 eggs were peeled and cooked. It was mainly the children who were asked to help with the peeling.

Volunteers arrive at the Palace of Culture and set up before visitors arrive.

The volunteers represent all ages and backgrounds.

Nam's wife.

Action shots of volunteers making sure that everything is running smoothly.

Food is served!

Even the younger members of the families come along every Sunday to help with Smile Warsaw.

About the photographer

Zula Rabikowska is a Polish-British visual artist based in London. Zula was born in Poland, grew up in the UK and has worked in France, China, South Africa, India, Palestine and the Caribbean.

Her practice is influenced by her own experience of immigration and in her work, she explores the themes of national identity, displacement and belonging. She is interested in the ways in which written and vernacular narratives interact with images and uses vernacular photography in her work. To see more of her work please visit her website, or follow her on Instagram.

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