RANGOON, BURMA — A group of bakers in Burma's former capital, Rangoon, is seeking to help disadvantaged women with training that goes beyond making bread and pastries. The Yangon Bakehouse also provides life-skills classes to place Burmese women in the growing hospitality industry.
Thirty-nine-year-old Ma Moe Nge is learning to bake and said that when her nine-month apprenticeship is over she wants to start her own bakery.
"Before, I only saw this kind of food, but I didn’t know how to make it. Now, I've even surprised myself that I can make this kind of food. I am interested in it and I also feel proud of myself," she said.
She is one of several Burmese women training with Yangon Bakehouse, a social enterprise started by four female friends, three foreigners and one Burma national, to help other women in need.
Co-founder American Heatherly Bucher said the training and modest wage helps many of the women get out of debt, rebuilds their dignity, and gives them hope.
"The bakehouse is a livelihood program training disadvantaged Myanmar [Burmese] women in both livelihood skills, culinary skills, front of house, hospitality and in life skills. So, giving them skills from, you know, budgeting their personal finances to reproductive health to good nutrition to English class," said Bucher.
Co-founder Phyu Phyu Tin manages a local restaurant and hopes her experience can make the bakehouse more sustainable.
"It's always in my mind like I want to help our people. And, the main thing is, even like expatriates, people from outside, want to help our people. So, I want to try as much as I can to help them make it happen," she said.
Bucher said they select women who are unable to earn a living for their families and, after training, hope to place them in Burma's growing hospitality industry or as domestic workers.
Baking and rising
Their fundraising has been so successful they plan to move the Bakehouse from its temporary location to its own shopfront by the end of March.
"We know business and we know food and we know women. And so we're trying to help some of the most disadvantaged women here from their 20s to 40s that kind of missed those opportunities to develop life skills and job skills and need a chance to not only support their families, but to participate in the economy. You know, that's growing," said Bucher.
For now, the Yangon Bakehouse sells its goods through catered and community events where they receive strong support.
This year's fun fair at the International School of Myanmar saw all entrance fees donated to the bakehouse.
Though the goal is to help them find jobs, Bucher said they hope some of the women will stay on to train the next group of apprentices.