French Baguette Like A Four Leaf Clover

French Baguette Like A Four Leaf Clover, 2011-06-13, 13:19

French baguette

Could you imagine that buying pastries or bread at the supermarket or eating them at the hotel could help Chinese underprivileged youth? At Carrefour, or many hotels like Sofitel, Radisson or Grand Mercure, Shanghai Young Bakers and its numerous partners made this innovative social project possible.

A Franco-Chinese partnership

Shanghai Young Bakers will make the Chinese love the French baguette. By teaching Traditional French bakery to Chinese underprivileged youths aged 17 to 23, this local organization gives them the chance to change from unfortunate children into really lucky young people.

‘Before Shanghai, a very similar project was developed in Vietnam. The final concept was defined in 2008. SYB was a way for a group of French people to give back and thank China for the opportunities the country brings them’,explained Cecile Cavoizy SYB manager. After conducting a market study, this French group discovered that the bakery market was a huge development opportunity due to its high expansion and a lack of skilled bakers. Launched in 2009, SYB was first set up by 12 French volunteers with the support of the French consulate and the Shanghai Charity Foundation. The same year, the international team met Thomas Kalkhoven, the baker and trilingual rare bird they were searching for. Like the yeast needed to make the dough rise, he was the missing ingredient in SYB’s recipe for making the social innovation project take shape. Today, SYB is composed of about ten employees and volunteers.

The opportunities given to the children

Children and teacher (middle left) made bread together (Photograph by Kevin He)

‘Our idea is that SYB does not just assist orphans with temporary aid. More than that, we teach them a valuable skill that enables them to lead independent lives’ commented Cecile Cavoizy. While Chinese proverb tells ‘Give a man a fish, you feed for a day; teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime’, Shanghai Young Bakers takes it back as ‘Give an orphan some bread, you feed him for a day; teach him how to bake, you feed him for a lifetime!’. What more useful than simple and vital needs? When food rhymes with love, teaching bakery may rhyme with learning how to give love to others, how to live, how to become independent. In July, 53 students will have been trained in SYB baking center, situated in Putuo District.

The children alternate intensive classes in both French and Chinese bakery with practical internships at partner companies, which could lead into an employment offer. ‘Some of them just left school; others come from factories, worked hard and had no future prospects. These children are very motivated and know exactly what opportunities SYB can give them’, completed Cecile. As SYB gives the underprivileged youth employment opportunities in bakery chains or hotels in Shanghai and all across China, it also answers skills shortage in the bakery job market. The social project is fully sponsored and has many partners as associations, corporations and schools. Associations recommend and follow the students, schools design the content and organize the classes and corporations as Carrefour Foundation sponsor the program.

Thomas Kalkhoven, the French yeast of Shanghai Young Baker Chinese bread

Thomas Kalkhoven (middle) with his students (Photograph by Kevin He)

Since 2009, the French baker native of Lille teaches approximately 20 students per year. Thomas Kalkhoven first moved to China in 2006. ‘I have always been attracted by China, its culture, its people. As I decided to improve my knowledge of this country, I also wanted to travel and perfect my Chinese. Then, to get experience but also for my own pleasure, I moved to China’, explained Thomas. At the same time, he discovered a new passion and skill from teaching English and French. After engineering studies, he finally joined his father and uncle’s passion for bakery at Lesaffre. This French yeast company sponsors Thomas employment at the Shanghai Young Bakers, so he could work with both Lesaffre and SYB. After two years of teaching in fluent Chinese, he will pass on his knowledge to the three SYB students who will continue this social mission.

Shanghai Young Bakers, and after?

The Shanghai Young Bakers first promotion’s Creme have been sent to France for six-month CAP training. Two students in bakery and one in pastry are now studying at the Ecole Francaise de Boulangerie d’Aurillac. They’ll come back to China in July 2011, as teachers for the next promotion of SYB. They will also help to establish the commercial aspects of the program: classes, sponsor team-building activities and production. You might eat some SYB breads and pastries soon, as one of the Shanghai Young Bakers’ projects is to start production and sell, possibly in SYB social cafes. Then you’ll sit in a comfortable chair with your friends and take time to appreciate your afternoon tea after saying, of course, ‘Bon appetit!’

By Anne Dryvers

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