Kitchens around the world

Women in colorful clothing reaching in to share food from a bowl at center in Niger. Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Few things around the world are more powerful than food. From our first taste to our last bite, nearly every moment we experience in life is enriched or driven by what we put on our plates.

We work across the globe to help families access food, grow more crops and improve their nutrition, because we know these vital ingredients add up to so much more than a meal.

Food not only gives us our strength — it gives us our community, and our future. It’s part of our memories with our families, our celebrations with our friends and our consolations with our loved ones.

In every corner of the world, food brings us together.

When we gather for a meal, we take part in an experience that is familiar to every other person on earth. But where and how we do it looks different for each of us depending on where we live — and what we’ve been through.

Below, see what it’s like to cook and eat in different parts of the world. And find out how you can help ensure every family, regardless of where they live, has what they need to get past their next meal and on their way to feeling healthy and whole.


A girl prepares beans in timor leste
Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps


It’s dinner time, so 15-year-old Lourdes is trimming green beans her family bought at the market. She will soon help boil the cassava leaves she collected from their home garden.

As the eldest of her siblings, one of Lourdes’ daily chores is helping her mother, aunt and cousins prepare meals for her siblings and extended family.

Children smile near a fire where food is cooking in a bowl in timor leste
Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

They use a traditional three-stone open fire in the kitchen, which in Timor-Leste is always a separate house behind the main house. They get two fires going because there are so many people to cook for — 18 total.

Soon the smoke will be billowing out the room’s only window and curling up over the roof.


A woman in nepal prepares potatoes while her daughter and son sit nearby
Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

In Sankhu, Nepal, outside Kathmandu, Maiya prepares potatoes with her daughter Asmita, 20, and son Akash, 13, in their temporary shelter. It wasn’t long ago when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked the region, destroying their house in the process.

Since then, the family has gotten used to living — and cooking — in a tent.

A woman cooks potatoes on a gas stovetop in nepal
Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

In the aftermath of the quake, we provided Maiya with emergency supplies, including kitchen utensils to help her feed her children. Since then we’ve been busy helping families like hers purchase the things they need to recover, get back their livelihoods and rebuild strong, stable places to call home.


A woman in ethiopia prepares to serve a meal
Photo: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

In Yabello, Ethiopia, you can often find Meseret, her husband and their three children cooking fresh eggs, chopping carrots, and preparing leafy greens, beets, tomatoes and other vegetables to make their meals.

But, until recently, Meseret actually struggled to keep her family healthy and fed. Every day they ate a simple diet consisting mostly of shiro, a dish made from powdered chickpeas or beans, and injera, a flatbread common in Ethiopia.

But since we taught Meseret about nutrition, her entire family is eating better, and her children don’t get sick as often as they did before. Even more, Meseret says cooking is now one of her family’s favorite ways to spend time together.


A young boy in syria holding fresh bread
Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

One of the Arabic words for bread is “aysh,” which is also the word for life. It’s such an essential part of Syria’s culture that, before the war, families ate it with nearly every meal. Now, after more than five years of conflict, this staple food is more important than ever.

Many people reportedly get almost half their calories from wheat, mainly bread. And when paired with complementary foods, like tomato paste, it can provide a nutritionally-dense meal for those with few other options.

A man prepares round flatbreads in syria
Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

But bread isn’t just a food source for families in conflict-ridden Syria. At a time when so many are surrounded by turmoil, having bread in their homes provides families with a sense of normalcy and connection to community.

Every month, we provide an average of 660 metric tons of flour to local bakeries in north Syria, so they can continue baking and provide bread to families who really need it.


A woman prepares food in nigeria
Photo: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps

In northeast Nigeria, 20-year-old Habiba grinds peppers in the small hut her family has called home since they were uprooted by Boko Haram three years ago. The peppers will add flavor to the rice she's preparing for her children and neighbors. Habiba's husband is away looking for work.

Food is scarce here, and Habiba regularly skips meals so she can provide her three children with more food. "It's bad every time they cry because of food," she says, "because there is no food anywhere."

People gathered around a plate of food in nigeria
Photo: Tom Saater for Mercy Corps

Luckily, Habiba has a friend in her neighbor, Zulyatu. From the same home village, the two families take care of one another. Zulyatu recently received a voucher from Mercy Corps to buy food, and they’ll share the rice and cooking oil she purchased so both families have something to eat for the next month.


A girl prepares potatoes in lebanon
Photos: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps
A girl prepares potatoes in lebanon

Fatima*, 14, prepares her family's dinner in an old apartment building in Barja, Lebanon. She came from Syria four years ago with her parents and nine siblings after their home in Aleppo was destroyed by airstrikes.

As refugees, Fatima and her family have trouble meeting their basic needs, and only two of the children are in school. Still, Fatima’s mother, Mona, says she is trying to teach them to be hopeful and optimistic, despite the difficult circumstances, and to remain a close family that loves one another.

Mercy Corps works in this community to help refugees like Fatima, Mona and their family stay healthy and cope with trauma.


A woman prepares beans near her home in niger
Photos: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps
People gathered to share a meal in niger

Hajia, a mother of five, prepares beans near her home in Garake, Niger. Millet, beans, lettuce, peppers and cassava leaves with peanut paste are traditional fare in this rural village — and meals are a community event.

Hajia and the other women prepare food together, outside their homes, using an open fire for cooking. When the meal is ready, as many as 30 people gather around with their children. Everyone finds a shady spot on the ground to sit, talk and enjoy the food, together.

Seasonal hunger is a stark reality in Garake, so we’re helping families learn to grow strong, local crops that provide them with the food they need year-round.

Our work

We work around the world to help people overcome the barriers that keep them from getting the food they need. Because we know a better future begins when each one of us has enough to eat.

Over the past five years, we have helped more than 30 million people access the nutritious food they need to survive and build better lives. We provide emergency food so families can meet their urgent needs, ensure farmers have tools and education to grow bountiful crops, and teach mothers about the food and nutrition their children need to grow strong.

Help us provide even more support to the people who need us around the world.