'The blessing means more than the money': Refugee restaurateur offers free meals
'When I came to this country, I came with empty pockets'
Habtamu Lamu ladles fragrant red lentils, cubes of marinated lamb and steaming hot peanut soup into cardboard takeout containers.
On the first day of every month, from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m., Lamu prepares delicacies from his home country of Ethiopia and serves them to people living on the streets of Edmonton.
It's a new routine for Lamu, owner of Awash Ethiopian Restaurant, a family-run restaurant that opened in the Sherbrooke neighbourhood in March.
Lamu said the meals are his small way of showing gratitude for the new life he's built for himself in Canada.
"When I came to this country, I came with empty pockets," Lamu said he stands over fragrant pots of meat and vegetables stewing in his restaurant kitchen.
"Today, thanks to God and thanks to Canada, I have beautiful kids and a beautiful life and I'm able to help my family back home. I'm so happy for what I have."
'People helped me. God helped me'
Lamu, who came to Canada as a refugee in 2001, worked as a cleaner, limo driver and meat-counter clerk before opening the restaurant.
From the beginning, he wanted generosity to be part of his business plan.
"This was always my hope, to always help somebody because I was homeless at one time in Ethiopia," he said.
"Because of politics, I ran away from my family and went to a different city, and then I was in a Kenyan refugee camp. And people helped me. God helped me."
Lamu began serving free meals on Canada Day. On that first afternoon, when no one showed, Lamu and his two young children went downtown and passed out the meals near Hope Mission instead.
They served 55 people on the street that day.
"All of them, they just said, 'God bless you, God bless.' No one asked us where we came from. They just said those words," Lamu said.
"Doing this, it's going to cost me but the blessing means more than the money. Money is not everything."
Lamu hopes his monthly free meal provides some hope to those in need and inspires others to pay it forward.
"God gives us two hands, one hand to help myself and the second hand to help somebody else."