Traditional baguettes, sourdough, soft bread, croissants, and the classic pain au chocolat are just some of the baked goods created by students at La Boulangerie Française in Ho Chi Minh City. However, this is not a simple baking or culinary institution. With the motto, “We Bake For Change,” the vocational school, founded in December 2017, seeks to better the lives of young people from low-income families of rural Vietnam. The HCMC branch is based off of the successful model of La Boulangerie Francaise – Hue that has been successfully run for almost 20 years.
The program is partially funded by the French Development Agency (AFD), a public institution that allocate funds from the French government to “funds, supports and accelerates the transition to a fairer and more sustainable world.” La Boulangerie Française partners with Thu Duc College of Technology and The European Institute of Cooperation and Development (IECD) to offer a vocational training program, and the premise for the students to learn and live in.
With a vision of operating this program in a long-term and train as many future bakers as possible, La Boulangerie Française – HCMC has established itself as a social enterprise. Its goal is to successfully ensure that 90 percent of its budget is economically sustainable. Following the successful social business model at the Hue school, the HCMC school generates revenue by selling products their students create, all in a well stocked kitchen at Thu Duc College.
The school currently supplies pastries to popular local restaurants in the city, such as Cafe Marcel. La Boulangerie Française has many goals, one being creating value in the art of baking and pastry making in Vietnam and to provide opportunities of a successful future for young Vietnamese adults who cannot afford higher education.
Vietcetera had the opportunity to visit the school and sit down with the program’s Project Manager, Van Trinh, the Academic Coordinator, Quyen Doan, and two successful students, Uyen Dinh and Hoa Nguyen, to learn more about the school’s model of operation and how this program has transformed their students’ lives.
Professional Training Of Students
Students are trained based on the standards of a curriculum used in France for the Vocational Training Degree in Bakery (CAP – Certificat d’Aptitude Professionelle), according to Van Trinh. Baking classes start very early in the morning at 6 a.m. Basic bakery skills are trained in the baking room while life skills classes, such as English, hygiene, time management, etc are taught in the afternoon. There is a strict expectation for students to be punctual to show them tardiness is a disruption to the organization. In addition, it trains them to have the right attitude when working in a professional environment.
The students also have opportunities to take on leadership roles, such as being a cleaning leader or a baking leader. The students will take on either of these leadership roles on a rotating schedule that is posted on a board in the hallway outside of the classroom. The cleaning leader is responsible for making sure everything is cleaned up and put away after every baking session. The goal here is to teach students about responsibilities and hygiene. The baking leader is a more experienced student paired with a less experienced student. Peer-to-peer mentorship is another way for students to learn about baking La Boulangerie Française – HCMC.
Following a year of training, the students complete a professional internship for six months. The school will guide the students with their first career choice based on personal skills, goals, and interests and are matched to a hotel or restaurant that fits their abilities.
A Supportive Community That Advocates For Each Other
Hoa Nguyen: I initially attended university to fulfill my family’s wishes, but I couldn’t find a passion. Meanwhile, my family’s disposable income could not afford my education any further. Therefore, I was unable to attend school. One day I was looking through Facebook and I saw a post about this training program, and I decided to apply. (Hoa is a current student at La Boulangerie Française. She came from Bac Lieu to start this program in December 2018. She is finishing up her last few months at the school).
Uyen Dinh: After I graduated high school, my mom had lung cancer. So I decided to stay at home to take care of her. After she passed away, I didn’t have the opportunity to go back to school. In the rural provinces, if a girl doesn’t go to school or have a job in the next few years, she has to get married, and I don’t like that at all. Fortunately, my uncle told me that there was still a spot in the program. I decided to sign up for an interview. (Uyen is currently a trainer at La Boulangerie Francaise. She’s from Dak Lak. She has graduated from the program and now is off to an internship).
Quyen Doan: I previously worked for another NGO for five years, and I want to change the working environment. I initially was here to teach a life skill class for the students. After attending the first class, I thought that these students were very amicable. I also wanted to work with a different age group, which is young adults. I thought that this program is very practical. Not only does this program gives students knowledge for life skills, it also gives them hard skills that will prepare them to be a baker. These skills will further prepare them to be successful at their job and provide for their family. (Quyen is a Pedagogical Coordinator at La Boulangerie Française. She has a background in social work and has been working here since November 2018).
What is the working and learning environment like here?
Hoa Nguyen: The living condition is very comfortable. We are given free meals everyday, and we don’t have to worry about making ends meet. There is respect within the team. Whenever I make a mistake, the trainer will always explain what I did wrong. The learning environment here is challenging, but there are a lot of opportunities to grow as well.
Quyen Doan: As an academic coordinator working in a team of five people, the workload is definitely a lot because of the small team size. However, there is respect within the team. I can make decisions and experience new things, such as taking on tasks that I have not yet tackled before and complete those tasks under Van’s supervision. I do feel that my voice matters within the team.
What is the most valuable thing you have learned throughout this program?
Hoa Nguyen: Before joining this program, I didn’t have any goals. However, the life skills classes in this program have helped me to define my goals and teach me about time management. I also learned what it meant to be in a team and that a tiny individual mistake can affect the entire team’s performance. I learned to put aside my ego and collaborate with my teammates.
Uyen Dinh: I’ve changed a lot ever since I’ve joined the program. I become more confident and I learned about the significance of teamwork. When I first joined, I didn’t have any skills. English wasn’t my strong suit and I was quite shy when talking to people. After joining this program, I got to interact with other students and trainers. I’ve grown and I’m very grateful for that.
Impact Of Tourism
Authentic French Bread and pastries are not very culturally incorporated in Vietnam although the practice itself has been around for thousands of years. “By purchasing our products, coffee shops can outsource productions and have the opportunity to tap into high-quality bakeries.”
The foundational knowledge of bread-making has not changed. Teaching students the yeast and fermentation process will help them during their education and in the work-field.
Vietcetera has written many articles about the rise of tourism in South East Asia, specifically in Vietnam. The increase in the industry demands more bakers. Inevitably, La Boulangerie Française HCMC has been asked by many businesses if they plan on expanding.
“Our intention is not to flood the market,” Van said. “We want to create value. It’s quality over quantity.”
Address: 53 Vo Văn Ngan, Lin Chieu, Thu Duc, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Written by Annie Trieu and Kimberly Nguyen