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Transforming lives of refugees through baking

In March this year, a group of unemployed women refugees from Iran, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe gathered for the first time in a kitchen in East London.

20th Feb 2017

In March this year, a group of unemployed women refugees from Iran, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea and Sri Lanka gathered for the first time in a restaurant kitchen in East London

Beneath some railway arches in east London these women were learning how to become artisan bakers. At the start, the lessons were very quiet as the women were shy and hampered by poor English. Most of them weren't particularly confident and a couple weren't sure about the value of a course teaching bread-making skills. When the course drew to a close after 10 weeks, organised with the support of the Refugee Council, the mood within the group had completely changed. “There was much more laughter,” Jean Kern, the baker teaching the classes, said. The best part is, the six of the eight people on the course had found part-time employment, and the lessons had had a transformative effect that went far beyond the teaching of cookery skills. Just Bread is a Refugee Council project aimed at improving the employability of refugees, and the model has turned out to be simple but unexpectedly potent. The bread the women bake during the course is sold locally, subsidising the cost of running the programme and reinforcing the idea that the women are doing something beneficial, rather than just receiving charity. Lara Mepham, a volunteer with the project, said the course helped people to overcome culture and language barriers. “Baking is demonstrative. You don’t need to have that much English,” she said. “People come for different reasons. Some are desperate for five days’ work; for others, it was more about confidence-building. It is a win-win model. They are selling well-made bread, which is such an incredible thing. It gives them a sense that they are contributing something, not just receiving charity. By the end, people come out of their shells.” This story first appeared on The Guardian
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