Refugee Week 2021: a focus on unity

23rd June 2021 | Eativity editors

With more people than ever now claiming refugee status across the globe, the importance of Refugee Week 2021 (June 20-26) has never been more pronounced, especially as it helps to shine a light on and celebrate refugee communities in Australia.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, despite the pandemic, the number of people fleeing wars, violence, persecution and human rights violations in 2020 rose to nearly 82.4 million people – a four percent increase on top of the already record-high 79.5 million at the end of 2019 – with 26 million people listed as refugees.

Refugee Week is an annual event that aims to educate the public about refugees and celebrate the positive contributions made by refugees to Australian society. The week is particularly poignant for the trainees at The Bread & Butter Project, Australia’s first social enterprise bakery, which invests 100 percent of its profits into training and employment pathways in the baking industry for people seeking refuge and asylum.

The Bread & Butter Project has been baking a difference since 2013.

This year’s Refugee Week theme – unity – focuses on building a more cohesive community through the spirit of working together to allow all people to thrive and progress. This is a sentiment that’s very close to the hearts of the team behind The Bread & Butter Project, according to the program’s Chairperson, Cindy Carpenter.

“We are committed to improving the refugee and asylum seeker experience in Australia, and believe a vitally important way of doing this is through the provision of gainful employment and English language skills,” she says. “We offer a six-month paid training program that includes completion of a TAFE qualification, hands-on baking training, English tutoring and work placements, which has a significant impact on the lives of our trainees.”

Before joining The Bread & Butter Project, many trainees usually tick multiple boxes on the Centre for Policy Development’s indicators of disadvantages in employment, such as metro-based, female, over 45, poor English language skills and subject to off-shore processing.

“Usually, when we have the opportunity to bring our trainees on board, it’s their first paid job in Australia, and they often have no formal qualifications, or have qualifications earned overseas that are not recognised in Australia,” Carpenter says.

The Bread & Butter Project uses 100% of its profits to train people seeking refuge and asylum in Australia.

Since launching in 2013, the program has graduated 55 professional artisan bakers into employment in Australia’s hospitality industry, with the most recent graduation in March 2021. However, Carpenter says the employment outcomes achieved by The Bread & Butter Project are in stark contrast to the typical experience for refugees in Australia.

“The Centre For Policy Development’s Settling Better report identified that, three years after arrival, refugees are usually three times less likely to be employed,” she says.

“Indeed, Federal Minister for Education and Youth, Alan Tudge, recently confirmed that 38 percent of refugees remain unemployed in the first three years after their arrival.”

Almost all Bread & Butter Project baker graduates are now sustainably employed and have been able to discontinue welfare support. Independent research has also found that 100 percent of the children of Bread & Butter Project graduates are either at school or university or in paid employment – demonstrating positive intergenerational impact.

Recognising the importance of the refugee journey, The Bread & Butter Project has released two videos to coincide with Refugee Week. The videos honour the trainees who join the program and highlight the courage it takes to start a new life in a new country.

The two videos profile Somprasong from Thailand and Tseten from Tibet, chronicling their lives before The Bread & Butter Project and how the program has changed their prospects since arriving in Australia. Through the training they’ve received, both graduates are now employed full-time and together manage The Bread & Butter Project’s concession store within Sydney’s Woolworths Metro Redfern, where they carry out on-site mixing, proving, shaping and baking of artisan sourdough breads every day.

“Our trainees come from all corners of the world, including Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Sierra Leone, Congo, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Myanmar, Thailand, Mongolia, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Fiji and Papua New Guinea,” Carpenter says. “They all have unique stories to tell about their experiences before coming to Australia, and about their lives since arriving in this country, and we’re hoping to share just a small piece of that through these videos.

“At the same time, we’re encouraging other businesses to share the stories of their team members who come from refugee backgrounds, particularly with the important attention that Refugee Week brings to the issue.”

If you’d like to find out more about The Bread & Butter Project and how they’re helping refugees in Australia, head to thebreadandbutterproject.com. For more about Refugee Week 2021 and how you can get involved, go to refugeeweek.org.au