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Baking enterprise empowers unemployed women to become r…

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This week, 25 women who are unemployed or in need of a sustainable source of income were taught how to bake, affording them the opportunity to start their own business of selling goods to their local community and becoming financially independent. SA’s expanded unemployment rate is over 40%, and women’s employment hasn’t recovered to pre-covid levels.

In July, Robyn Le Roux’s family business of 25 years went up in flames after it was looted and petrol bombed during the recent riots.

“Twenty-five years of blood, sweat and tears gone in a couple of hours,” said Le Roux’s husband, Stanton as he walked through the rubble and ash of what used to be Pro Parts, his family business that sold spare parts and did basic car engineering at Letsoho Shopping Centre in Katlehong.

“There is a part of you that is extremely disappointed, heartbroken that they don’t see that this is their community,” said Le Roux, “But I always believe in showing people that there is a better side to them.

“We will not get to a state where, like many people are saying, we’re going to go completely down as a nation. I believe in my country. I believe that we can rise because, as you see, we’ve got good people,” said Le Roux looking around at the volunteers who had gathered to help move the incinerated machinery and rubble from the shop.

Le Roux has always helped the people around her. She started the Chayil Foundation in 2013 which aims to serve the surrounding community — from feeding up to 2,000 people a week, to assisting with drug awareness and rehabilitation, to elderly care, daycare services and school shoe drives to name a few.

Now, for women’s month and in the midst of South Africa’s unemployment crisis, the Chayil Foundation approached professional pastry chef Carol Van den Horst who owns Dezign Cakes, to teach 25 women baking skills so that they can set up their own business and generate a source of income.

Professional pastry chef Carol Van den Horst showing women at the workshop how a freshly baked scone should look. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Van den Horst volunteered her time to teach women over two days this week how to bake the likes of bread, biscuits, scones and Vetkoeks (or ‘fat cakes’ which is fried bread) which they can sell to their local community. Coca-Cola Beverages sponsored a starter pack of ingredients and equipment, which include a baking tray, flour, margarine, baking chocolate and buttermilk.

The workshop ran on Wednesday and Thursday (11 and 12 August) from Van Den Horst’s kitchen where her business, Dezign Cakes, operates. 

Initially, the women will bake at home, take orders and do deliveries for their local community. 

After the Chayil Foundation knows these women are committed to their businesses it wants to establish several mobile bakeries that they can bake and sell out of. Le Roux says by next year they want to have at least 20 businesses up and running. 

“So we’re basically giving them a good head start,” says Le Roux, “and we’ll also be walking with them, we’re mentoring them to teach them how to budget, how to do marketing.”

Despite losing her business, which was 25 years in the making and her family’s source of income, Le Roux still wants to help others.

Rebuilding her business has come to a standstill, as the shopping centre’s landlord hasn’t started rebuilding and government insurance hasn’t gotten back to her. “I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m passionate about this because now I’m understanding a lot of what people go through,” reflects Le Roux, “not having that fixed income right now, the panic.

“What happened to my business has opened my eyes more to helping people that are in my position — that are actually in a far worse position to what I am in — to get them on their feet.”

Professional pastry chef Carol Van den Horst donated her time to teach 25 women baking skills so that they can set up their own business and generate a source of income. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Many of the women chosen for this project are volunteers at the soup kitchen the Chayil Foundation runs and are either unemployed, in need of additional sources of income or a better job.

Stats SA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey reported in June that, based on results from the first three months of 2021, the official unemployment rate was 32.6%. Using the expanded definition of unemployment the figure was even higher at 43.2%.

Additionally, women seem to be worse off than men currently. According to the National Income Dynamics Study — Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (Nids-Cram) Wave 5 results, released on 8 July, the level of unemployment in South Africa for men has fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels, however, as of March 2021 the level of women in employment was 8% lower than it was pre-Covid.

One of the women given the opportunity to learn to bake is Fedelcia Jordt, a single mother who lives in Eldorado Park in Johannesburg South.

Currently unemployed and a volunteer at the soup kitchen, Jordt is excited about this opportunity because it can help support her son.

“So with this project, I can put him into a better school,” says Jordt, “because he’s struggling and now starting high school — all the peer pressure and the inconsistent learning because of Covid.”

About learning to bake Jordt said, “I love cakes — I love eating cakes but I’ve never baked them,” she says laughing, “but now as aunty Carol started with the programme I’m getting more excited because I can actually now bake fat cakes or bake breads. I can’t wait to try out what she’s been demonstrating.”

Fedelcia Jordt, currently unemployed and a single mother from Eldorado, is excited about this opportunity because she wants to send her son to a better school. (Photo: Julia Evans)

Leigh-Anne Booysen (28) from Eldorado Park, is currently unemployed and has found it very difficult to find work since she left high school, even more so since the pandemic.

“It’s difficult, especially as a woman, being unemployed. You struggle to put bread on the table, to put food on the table. There’s not always family members around to help you,” explains Booysen.

Le Roux said, “starting the foundation, I’ve always been passionate about empowering women. And as it’s women’s month… a lot of women are going through a lot of distress, a lot of the pressures fall on them.”

The Nids-Cram Wave 5 report also highlighted how women are more likely to take on the burden of shielding their children from hunger than men.

“But this is giving them an opportunity to understand what they’re able to do… to show other women that, you just gotta take what you have and you’ve got to make the best out of it,” says Le Roux.

Van den Horst knows all about making the best of her situation and starting from scratch. Finally having the financial support, Van den Horst left her job as a senior business development manager and went to chef school at age 49, to fulfil her passion of becoming a qualified pastry chef.

Now she wants to transfer those skills and help empower women.

As the saying goes, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

This quote, perhaps unintentionally, highlights a big problem women face and why unemployment is higher amongst women. Men are often seen as the breadwinners of a household and often given more encouragement and opportunities than women.

For Van den Horst, it’s about teaching women to fish, or in this case, to bake — giving them a skill that they can use to generate a source of income. “What better way to teach them to look after themselves, and not be dependent on anybody,” she says.

Modiane Mapaya who is part of this programme said, “It’s important for women to own their own life.

“I find it very important for women to educate themselves. There’s always opportunities to learn, but sometimes people don’t know where to go to get the information or they think it is such a big task or they don’t have money.

“But you don’t always need to have money, you just need to avail yourself — be willing to get the opportunities out there.”

Robyn Le Roux explaining to the women at the baking workshop that if they don’t take this opportunity seriously there are plenty of women who would be grateful to take their place. (Photo: Julia Evans)

In line with this, Le Roux said that losing her business has taught her that there are a lot of people who want to help themselves but just don’t know how, “many of them knock on doors, and the doors are shut,” she says.

“So I believe that if you can be a helping hand to somebody, to help put food on the table or put the roof over their head…it goes a long way. And help is so scarce. It’s always who you know and what you know.”

Van den Horst agrees, saying, “you know baking is a science. Even if you have the passion, it’s difficult if you have no one to teach you. You lose interest.”

Van den Horst added, “women that are dependent on other people can get into the wrong relationship with men who are abusive… because this person feels that [they are] looking after you.

“And I find that, in general, women are hard working. Really hard working, their family comes first… you know, I won’t go to sleep if my children haven’t eaten.

“It’s important to teach women that you don’t need to be dependent on anybody, you don’t need to go and stand in the street on the corner. You don’t need to revert to alcoholism or drugs.” DM

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