Channel News Asia – Baguette classes for China’s poverty-stricken youths

SHANGHAI: A charity in Shanghai is giving poverty-stricken youths a chance to change their fate.

Every year, some 20 young people enter a training programme to become French bakers.

19-year-old Wang Hui Ping came to Shanghai from her village in Anhui two months ago.

She is one of the 21 students selected to participate in a one-year French baking course.

She hopes the new skill will enable her find a better job and help her family’s finances. Her father has passed away, her mother is ill and she has siblings waiting to be fed.

“My family needs money. My mother is alone at home. She doesn’t earn much from farm work. Life is hard. I have to study hard to create a bright future,” said Wang, a student at Shanghai Young Bakers.

“Shanghai Young Bakers” helps students from financially troubled families who have an interest in learning and baking.

The course fees, accommodation and insurance cost US$108,000 per year but they are provided free for the students.

Cecile Cavoizy, Education & Communications Manager of Shanghai Young Bakers, said: “We started as a group of French volunteers who have been living in China for some years and want to do something to give back to the society. We realise it’s not only us who miss bread but also a lot of Chinese people who like French bread and are liking it more and more.”

Students go for internships in four or five star hotels as well as an increasing number of bakeries opening up in Shanghai.

Demand is high for French bakery interns and qualified bakers, and the students are almost guaranteed of getting a job after graduation.

Baking is hard work – requiring long hours of standing. It’s a job not many in Shanghai want to do, but for the students, it’s a once in a lifetime chance to change their lives.

“I couldn’t figure out what path to take back home. I was confused about my future. By coming here, I can change my life and escape from that,” said Zhang Gao Peng, a student at Shanghai Young Bakers.

Guo Yi Ren, also a student at Shanghai Young Bakers, said: “I just want to get three certificates, one to certify me a qualified baker, and the other two as a barista and bartender respectively.”

“They may either do farm work at home or work in the factory assembly lines. I worked at Foxconn myself for more than half a year. It was very boring; every day was just a repetition,” said Zhang Zheng Hai, a student-turned-teacher at Shanghai Young Bakers.

For a start, teachers have to introduce the concept of French bread to the budding bakers.

“The bread in our hometowns sell for US$0.50 and is very soft. I used to think it was the only kind of bread. The students ask why French bread is so hard on the outside but soft inside. They now also know that bread is baked, not steamed,” said Zhang.

Another difficulty is helping them adapt.

“Many of them have never left their hometowns and were taking the train for the first time. They feel the city is too big. It’s like they are seeing the world for the first time,” said Zoey Zhao, a social educator at Shanghai Young Bakers.

Beyond lessons in the classroom, the charity programme also organises outings to places such as amusement parks and visits to the bakeries to give students a chance to interact with other bakers and chefs, as well as to get used to the people and lifestyle in the city.

– CNA /ls