Thursday, September 10, 2015

The heart of baking

A Rendezvous with Cavelle Dove, Co-founder of Yangon Bakehouse, a social enterprise aimed at empowering women from disadvantaged backgrounds by equipping them with the necessary life and work skills for a better future

By Aswathy Kumar

Meet San San (name changed to protect identity), a 39 year old mother to a daughter and a son. San San left school following a road accident when she was in Grade 9 and married when she was 24. Things did not go well for San San. Her husband was unreliable and soon left her when her daughter was just 3. Faced with the sole responsibility of providing for her two little ones San San started selling little products on the streets of Yangon. Raising enough money to feed her children were proving to be difficult, forcing San San to start working as a prostitute. 

For Thadar too, life was far from easy. She had to leave school at a very young age to support her family and started working in a shop for a mere $30 a month. Soon, Thadar’s life took a drastic turn when her only support system, her mother was diagnosed with AIDS. Thadar felt alone and devastated. Meeting even the basic needs of her family was becoming impossible.

Today you can see San San and Thadar, clad in crisp white aprons adorned over their black tee with the letters Yangon Bakehouse printed across it. They are amongst those women who have been enrolled under the 11-month apprenticeship at The Yangon Bakehouse, a social enterprise that train women in a food & beverage program giving  them job skills in cold & hot kitchen, bakery and barista. Today they are not only competent bakers, but are confident, wears their uniform with immense pride and hopes to start their own business one day. 

Cavelle Dove, Co-founder, Yangon Bakehouse
 “It all started with a small group of 4 women over a cup of tea, talking about the big changes that were taking place in Myanmar," said Cavelle Dove, co-founder Yangon Bakehouse talking about the story behind the initiative. “We all had one common concern. Will women from the most disadvantaged communities benefit from these changes that were happening around them? That’s how the concept of providing a platform to train these women right at the bottom of the pyramid with the necessary life and job skills emerged,” she said. 

The program has a a strict selection process to ensure that only the most disadvantaged benefit from it, that include women with no education, skill set or family support. “Women who come to our program are usually those who barely have any means to support themselves. This may include garbage pickers, prisoners, orphans or even former sex workers.”

They then undergo a 3 month classroom training where they are taught English, specific to the restaurant business, importance of hygiene, various cooking techniques, proper food storage, recipe reading amongst several others. The women then work 6 months at a training site learning skills in the kitchen and an additional month working at the cafe where they finally get a chance to actually interact with the customers, followed by job placements. “At the Yangon Bakehouse, its just not about mastering the skill of baking a brownie or a banana muffin, it’s about building their confidence and empowering each individual one step at a time, which include helping the women open their own bank accounts to finally writing their own resume and applying for jobs in the hospitality industry, ” said Cavelle.

Talking about their biggest challenges, Cavelle said, “At times we have had women who haven't even tasted or even seen bread and instances at the cafe where someone had ordered a tuna, cheese and chicken sandwich, only to find a layer of each stuffed between two slices of bread. Even sourcing the necessary ingredients could be a challenge. All our product is locally made and often getting them at the right time may not go as smoothly as expected. So the next time you see me at the supermarket with 300 packets of butter, you can guess that our supply of butter for the day hasn't yet arrived,” she joked. 

And the future…

Things are already looking up for the bakehouse with them opening a new outlet on Inya Road and a new cafe at a corporate office. “For a social enterprise like ours, it is very difficult and uncommon to be sustained by just sale and we have been getting immense support from our donors, volunteers, NGO’s and corporate sponsors. But when we think about the future, we definitely hope that atleast by the end of 2016 we will be supported 100 percent from the sale of our products. That’s our vision, our goal and our future.”

(photo credit: Google)