The experience of being a refugee or asylum seeker can be one of trauma, torture, isolation and uncertainty. And when they finally do settle in Australia, learning the language and finding meaningful work is often a challenge they’re left to navigate on their own.
That’s why Sydney-based social enterprise bakery The Bread and Butter Project is a life-changer for so many of Sydney’s new residents.
“At The Bread and Butter Project, we help people to not only become expert bakers but learn English and find a community of people with shared experiences,” says Trainee Support Manager Reyna Flynn.
As Australia’s first social enterprise bakery, 100% of profits are reinvested into baker training and employment pathways for the refugees and asylum seekers.
‘Baking’ new ground
The Bread and Butter Project started in 2012 and aimed to empower Sydney’s refugee and asylum seeker community. A social enterprise is a commercial organisation that uses its profits to fund social programs.
“Our participants come from all different backgrounds and have unique experiences,” says Reyna. “We aim to create a supportive workplace that empowers our trainee bakers and equips them for their new life here in Australia.”
Working alongside professional bakers, the program provides full-time paid traineeships which include baking skills, work experience, TAFE accreditation, English as a Second Language tutoring and career counselling. At the end of the program, The Bread and Butter Project works with the participants to find a job.
“So far 100% of our trainee baker graduates have been placed in sustainable employment,” Reyna explains. “Mostly in the baking and hospitality industry. It’s an incredible result.”
When refugees and asylum seekers arrive in Australia they often have a hard time finding a job. After 18 months in Australia only 17% of humanitarian migrants are in paid work. Years of living in turmoil and uncertainty leave them without job skills applicable to an Australian market. That’s what makes The Bread and Butter Project so remarkable. Not only are the participants trained in how to arrange their taxes and superannuation, read a roster, understand workplace requirements and communicate in the workplace, they’re also connected with people who have had similar experiences.
“Potential trainees are referred to The Bread and Butter Project by a number of agencies and from people in the community,” Reyna says. “Some may have had baking or hospitality experience in their country of origin, or in Australia, but many are looking for a new career. Some come with a passion for baking, some just with an interest, and we see their excitement for a new career over time. The Bread and Butter Project also has pathways for refugees and asylum seekers in our packing team, and as kitchenhands.”
This year the Australian Ethical Foundation will give a $15,000 Community Grant to the project.
“We’re thrilled to be receiving a grant. It will help us fund one more trainee this year,” says Reyna from the Marrickville training centre. “It costs us about $24,000 to send one asylum seeker through our entire training program successfully. And we know that it has an immense impact not only on their lives but also their families and the community as a whole.”
It’s the ‘yeast’ people can do
Ma, a Burmese refugee, was one of the first refugee trainees to enrol in the Bread and Butter Project back in 2013. The mother of three had been actively looking for work for five years since arriving in Australia. Ma completed her traineeship and now works in a full-time job for the bakery.
“[My family is] very proud of me that I am able to find a job after my training,” says Ma. “My English was very weak before starting at the Bread and Butter, but now it is much better because of the practice I received.”
The participants range in age from their 20s to their 50s and it’s great that The Bread and Butter Project gives everyone an opportunity to start a new career at any stage of life.
“We love watching the trainees grow along the way and build their confidence,” explains Reyna. “This is the first job many of our trainees have had in Australia and for some, it’s the first job they’ve ever had! It’s wonderful to be able to provide a really supportive work environment and to be the first step in our trainees’ new careers in the baking industry.”
The toast of the town
At Australian Ethical we can attest to the fact that the bread is perhaps the best baked goods in town. We have a constant supply of the sourdough and fruit loaf in our office, and our toaster is always in use by hungry employees after another slice.
If you’re in Sydney you can find some for yourself at Harris Farm stores, or by visiting The Bread and Butter Project.