A rather gloomy staircase leads to a new bakery and pastry school in Yangon. Often sounding the way are a few students practising English phrases, and not far beyond them is a baker’s paradise, writes Lou De Bruycker.

Glimmering stainless steel equipment and high-tech appliances crowd the kitchen, but what makes the French Bakery and Pastry School more unique is its commitment to teaching underprivileged teenagers.

French NGO the European Institute of Cooperation and Development (IECD) is behind the project on Bo Sun Pat Street in Pabedan Township. The 17 students who come from across Myanmar started the 17-month course on August 6.

IECD covers their food, rent, and school material costs, with the hope that when they graduate, employers will lap up the qualified bakers, who are reportedly in demand in Myanmar.

IECD enlisted the help of NGOs that have connections with villages throughout the country to select potential students, who were then interviewed about their backgrounds and ambitions. Out of 48 applications, 17 students were selected to participate, said project supervisor Shen Noon, 26.

When the students had wrapped up their English lesson, they told Myanmore how excited they were to begin the program. “Bakery and pastry is very interesting to me,” beamed Aye Moe Myint, 19. “I’m very happy to be here!”

Most of the students had never tried baking or even tasted a croissant before applying, but it did not take long to convert them to the pastries. “I want to be the best baker in the world,” one student declared.

A typical day at the school will start with a practical or theory class in the morning followed by a life skills class—generally on culture or health—and then an English lesson. The second half of the program will help the students enter the job market.

Project manager Claire Robaye, 28, said the school would sell open as a bakery to the public, selling “good quality and authentic French pastries…at a reasonable price.”

“But this will not happen before early 2019 since the students need to acquire a certain level of skill before commercialization,” she said, adding that the bakery will also sell to other businesses, including restaurants and hotels which “will hopefully hire some of our students in the future.”

IECD conducts vocational training, employment, entrepreneurship, education and health in 14 countries. Its long courses and small groups are designed to focus on the individual.

In Vietnam it has two similar bakery school projects, while in Myanmar it provides assistance to the Yangon Bakehouse and the Inle Heritage Hospitality Vocational Training Centre.

The funding partners of the bakery school in Yangon are Lux-Development, which is helping with the renovation of the building, the official French Development Agency (AFD), and the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism of Myanmar. Donors include Solidarity ACCOR, EXO Foundation, and Fondation Masalina.


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