This article was originally written and published by Australian Volunteers program here, which is funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFIT) and managed by VEGA Member AVI. The Australian Volunteers program provides opportunities for skilled Australians to contribute to the Australian Government’s aid program. In 2017-18, the program will support 1,000 volunteers in 26 countries with a budget of approximately $42.6 million.
Entrepreneurs Improving Livelihoods for Women in Myanmar
After 27 years traveling the world and honing his skills within the fine dining industry, multi award winning Executive Chef Dean Parrish decided he was up for a new challenge. That challenge presented itself in the form of a volunteer culinary trainer in Myanmar at a social enterprise to improve the livelihoods for underprivileged women.
The Yangon Bakehouse is a social enterprise established in 2012 by four women to create training and employment opportunities for underprivileged women. Trainees are supported for ten months to learn culinary skills, as well as other life skills including general and reproductive health, English classes and computer skills. They are also assisted to find employment after their training. The enterprise has now trained 57 women and is planning to expand to the Inle region in Shan State next year.
The Australian Volunteers for International Development program is supporting the growth of this social enterprise for women through two AVID assignments in culinary training and English teaching. Executive chef, Dean Parrish, and English as a Foreign Language teacher, Angus Johnstone, have embraced the opportunity to strengthen training for the local managers and students to improve their chances of employment.
Dean has been both methodical and passionate in his approach to improving the culinary training standards. “I have been developing operational procedures and systems, food safety standards, kitchen and personal hygiene procedures, as well as reviewing and improving the culinary skills of managers and staff, to bring a high level of professionalism to the Yangon Bakehouse kitchens.”
“One of my primary objectives in the first few months was to assess any areas that needed improving and then implement this into the training curriculum. It was very important to train the students in developing their palates so they could properly taste and adjust recipes accordingly.”
Weekly kitchen challenges promoting efficiency and working well under pressure have been incorporated into the curriculum to get students used to working in a fast paced kitchen environment. Dean says his students are quick learners and have come a long way in a short time.
“Together we have achieved many small goals in tweaking the products we produce, the procedures we use, and we have started working on some exciting new projects. Although the first group of students are only halfway through their training, they are progressing so fast and already showing up many of the previous apprentices. One day I’ll probably end up working for one of them,” said Dean.
In addition to implementing new menu items and introducing a retail range of jams, chutneys and dips, Dean has also been investigating costing for offsite catering possibilities and a cook book.
“At the moment we rely very heavily on donations just to cover basic costs and training equipment, so in the short-term we need additional funds. If we got help with some basic training equipment, we could have our retail and catering operations cover all our training costs. It is something that is definitely possible, but we do have some hurdles to overcome first.”
Almost halfway through his two year assignment, Dean reflects on his journey so far, “This has been one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had, and I’ve worked all around the world. I get embarrassed when friends say ‘oh you are doing such a wonderful thing’, but I promise you this, I am getting so much more out of it than I am giving.”
“The passion the Bakehouse directors have for this cause is really quite amazing, and has opened up my eyes to what impact people can have on other people’s lives. And then of course there is enthusiasm of the students. Their eyes light up when it’s time for their cooking class, they are so excited and eager to learn, and that is such a wonderful experience.”
Nearing the completion of his 12 month assignment, English trainer Angus Johnstone displays similar enthusiasm for his work with the staff and apprentices. Angus has been working with his Myanmar colleague, Phyo, to deliver the current round of English training using the curriculum he has helped to develop and tailor to the hospitality sector. The joint delivery of the training will ensure that the training will continue once he departs. “Phyo and I have been sharing a lot of ideas about teaching which I think has been beneficial to both of us.” Angus said.
Angus has delivered the curriculum to 28 apprentices, and sees the long term benefits for the students. The final version of the curriculum will be used in the Yangon Bakehouse apprenticeship program and possibly other cafes and restaurants in Myanmar.
You can learn more about the Yangon Bakehouse’s program in a short documentary produced by Myanmar International TV, including Dean and Angus talking about the program’s aim to empower young women (watch below):
The Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program is an Australian Government initiative. Photo: Australian volunteer Dean Parrish with apprentices from the Yangon Bakehouse. (l-r) Phyu Phyu Naing, Cho Cho Lwin, Aye Pa Pa Myo, Nan Nge Bee, Chit Hay Man, Cherry Oo, Naw Say Gay Htoo, Dean Parrish, Wai Mar Lwin, Nan Sander Win Win, Naw Sar April Phaw, Aye Aye Myint. Photo > Angus Johnstone