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Refugees making a crust

"I like how the project tries to help people": Burmese refugee Chantelle Oo. Photo: Chris Peken

Chantelle Oo is a trainee baker and refugee from Burma, whose life is being changed by a Marrickville-based social enterprise, the Bread and Butter Project.

Created by the Bourke Street Bakery, the project is a wholesale artisan bakery suppling food outlets throughout the inner city, while training refugees for future employment.

Ms Oo is in her fifth month of training and works within a small team of trainee bakers from Burma, Sierra Leone and Thailand. She enjoys training to be a baker and appreciates what the Bread and Butter Project is doing for refugees.

“Working as a baker is interesting to me. I have never done this before and so there has been a lot to learn,” Ms Oo said.

“I like the idea of how the project tries to help people.”

Ms Oo first came to Australia as a teenager in 2007 and initially lived in Queensland with her family before moving to Sydney.

“When we first arrived in Queensland from Burma, we were provided with a house, furniture and food,” she said.

“I enjoy coming to work, but I also enjoy my weekends and going to the beach, playing soccer, going out for lunch – Sydney is a good place for that.”

Paul Allam founder of the Bread and Butter Project said the business, which has been running since April 2013, is a self-sustaining social enterprise.

“The Bread and Butter Project is a social enterprise. 100 per cent of the profits…are reinvested back into supporting refugees further their employment,” Mr Allam said.

“We did get seed funding but the whole idea of a social enterprise is that the bread we sell sustains the mission.”

The Bread and Butter Project provides a traineeship that includes two work placements in other businesses.

“The whole idea of the project is to put people in sustainable employment. It’s a year traineeship which they get paid for and it’s accredited by TAFE,” Mr Allam said.

“At the end of the year if no job is available they stay at the project but if there is, we place them into the job and then support them for the next six months,” he said.

Mr Allam, a chef and baker himself, said he first came to the idea for the project after having trained Karen refugee women to bake bread at an orphanage in Mae Sot on the Thai-Burmese border.

“I was asked to go to an orphanage in Mae Sot…by some nuns there that my uncle knew. They had an oven that they didn’t know how to use,” Mr Allam said.

“The nuns’ idea was to create a little business within their own orphanage so they could sell the bread, thereby employing some of the mothers whose children they had at the orphanage.”

Marrickville councillor Sylvie Ellsmore said the Bread and Butter Project has a lot of local support, a reflection of the area’s forward-thinking business environment.

“It’s been picked up by a lot of businesses in the inner west who’ve supported it. If you go into the shops and cafes you see signs, ‘We support the Bread and Butter Project’,” Ms Ellsmore said.

“It’s a very progressively-minded business community in the inner west and Newtown.”

Ms Oo said after five months of training, she has hopes to bake pastry in the future.

“I have a feeling I might enjoy working with pastry, but as I haven’t had a chance to do that yet we’ll need to wait and see.”

The project will place its first trainees in full-time jobs in April.

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