Youth in Lebanon learning to make bread through UNICEF project for more stable income opportunities
Across Lebanon, youth, including those with disability, are learning the art of breadmaking through UNICEF in order to secure new skills to open their own business or work for a bakery, at a time in Lebanon when bread couldn’t be more important
With a natural movement, Amne takes a ball of dough in her hands, stretches it out with her fingertips then alternates slapping it into each hand, making the surface expand.
Amne, 23, has long been running an Arabic sweets business from home to support her two young children and husband, but since Lebanon has been engulfed in an economic crisis pushing 80% of the country into poverty, people have started to consider sweets a luxury.
As her sweets sales continue to decrease, Amne joined the UNICEF program, in partnership with AVSI, which trains youth to make bread, supports the bakery industry and also distributes bread packages to vulnerable families.
Now Amne knows how to make traditional breads such as pita, saj and tanoor, and will open up a small bakery station in her house in order to generate more income.
“Mostly people are requesting bread and manouche from me these days instead of sweets, because of the situation,” Amne says, as she drips water onto the circular dough, so it sticks to the side of the tanoor – a special wood oven – and stokes the coals.
Originally from Homs in Syria, Amne fled to Lebanon with her family when she was a child, and now live in the village of Jdeideh in Lebanon’s most northern province of Akkar.
“Everything is becoming expensive in Lebanon, and I have to work two jobs, my husband works in agriculture but he barely makes 50 thousand Lebanese Lira a day,” Amne explains, meaning her husband’s income is far below $2 a day.
“In Akkar, especially the Syrians are mainly working in construction or agriculture … but this program helped them a lot, because now they have another business idea and another skill,” Jad, the AVSI Field Coordinator for Akkar and North Governorates says.
Across Lebanon, 315 Lebanese and Syrian youth are working in 45 local bakeries, as part of the UNICEF project, plus one bakery which is run by 10 youth with a disability.
Throughout the course of the project, 192,000 extra bread bags are also produced - with provided flour and ingredients - from which 80% are distributed to vulnerable households who receive two bread bags a week, and 20% are sold at the bakery at an affordable price.
“We also focused on providing the raw materials for the bakeries, especially the flour, because of the shortages in the country,” Jad says.
In total, the UNICEF, Youth and Adolescent Development programme supports over 50,000 youth aged between 14-15 years.
Among them, more than 10,800 youth are provided with a package of skills building including career guidance, life skills, occupational training and literacy and numeracy.
A further 4,221 youth have benefitted from employment support services for at least three months and 6, 107 had access to employment and/or income generation opportunities.
After her training, Amne was teamed with the small, local Amina Bakery in Jdeideh where she started to put all her new skills to use and was able to make enough income through UNICEF’s Cash 4 Work program to pay of her rental debts.
“I like working with bread in general, I feel it’s something very important, people basically live on bread these days”
Zeinab, 20, also plans to invest her income from the bakery program to buy the tools to open her own home business making bread.
“I like working with bread in general, I feel it’s something very important, people basically live on bread these days… I think this training will be beneficial,” Zeinab says.
“My plan now is to work in my house, people can bring me the ingredients and I make it for them, but if I find a job in a bakery, it would be more beneficial for me, I’m trying to apply for jobs.”
The training in bread making also extended to Agonista Café in Beirut, which predominately employs people with down syndrome.
The owner and founder of Agonista says all the people now working in the bakery have discovered a passion for making bread and have gained another skill besides working in the coffee shop.
“This bakery has also given the chance to employ more people; we’ve been able to employ three more people with special needs,” Wassim says.
Georges, 27, has worked at Agonista for four years but recently learnt how to make bread, his favourite being saj because it’s the type most people order.
“I feel very happy kneading the dough, I enjoy this process a lot. I enjoy stretching the bread out with my hands, it makes me feel really happy,” Georges says.
“Now I can support myself and I have something stable, this is the first time I have a skill in something”
At Miniara Bakery, back in Akkar, Amer has been offered a job following the training and work program, which makes him feel satisfied.
“Now I can support myself and I have something stable, this is the first time I have a skill in something,” Amer says.
Now 25, he fled Syria 11 years ago, and has tried to sustain himself by working irregular day shifts in supermarkets and running errands.
Mohamed, also at Miniara Bakery, finds the work far easier on his body compared to working in farming.
“Working outside, in the sun, it’s very tiring, here it’s more comfortable,” Mohamed, 18, says.
Originally from Syria, his parents are both sick and can’t work, so Mohamed needs to support the entire family of four.
“I want to open my own bakery, start small as I get the materials and then as I make money, I will grow it bigger,” Mohamed says.