Fresh Bread, fresh start

Updated: 2013-04-15 15:33

By Cang Wei and Song Wenwei (China Daily)

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Fresh Bread, fresh start

Bakers in the Amity Bakery learn customer service skills. [Photo/China Daily]

Amity Bakery has a noble intention - to train those who are mentally challenged so that they can integrate into society and get a job. But they face an uphill task. Cang Wei and Song Wenwei visit their bakery in Nanjing to find out more about their challenges.

From the outside, Amity Bakery at 79 Huaqiao Road, Nanjing's Gulou district, looks and smells like any other bakeries. But once you talk to the staff members, you will notice the difference - about one-third of them are mentally challenged. Founded by Amity Foundation, a Chinese Christian NGO established in 1985, it is the first organization in China to provide a workshop and career training to mentally challenged people.

Besides the Huaqiao Road branch, the brand has two other branches - one at 45 Youfu West Street, and the other in the basement of a building at 16 Dajianyin Alley.

Through the windows of the bakery at Huaqiao Road, customers can observe the staff as they make the biscuits and bread.

The seven workers there are much slower than ordinary bakers. For example, they need to spend three minutes on packing the products, while ordinary people may finish the task in one minute.

They produce about 60 kilograms of biscuits or 5,000 loaves of bread a day on average.

All the ingredients used by the bakery are of high quality: milk imported from New Zealand, chocolate from Switzerland, and cheese from Italy.

No artificial flavoring is allowed. But, that also mean that the products are more expensive than at other bakeries.

Fu Ye, 33, is now serving customers at the Youfu West branch. Wearing a neat white uniform and a yellow hat, Fu introduces the various bread flavors available to every customer who walks in.

For children, he recommends bread stuffed with nuts, and jujube-flavored ones to women. Jujube is believed to enrich the blood and calm the nerves of women.

"If you come to the bakery more than two or three times, he will remember your preference and choose for you your favorite bread," says Xu Minghao, an ordinary staff member. "It's hard to believe that he has an IQ of a 10-year-old."According to Xu, training mentally challenged workers requires lots of patience.

"To them, simple procedures, such as kneading a dough and dividing it into small pieces, are difficult. The teachers took a month to teach them how to wipe the tables."

"But it's not only the skills they learn at Amity Bakery that matters," Xu says. "The important thing is that they step out of their homes and integrate into the society."

Huang Wenhui, a girl who used to stare blankly into thin air all day and cried whenever strangers talk to her, can now communicate using simple words. She also knows how to put biscuits into plastic bags and put labels on the biscuit boxes.

The mentally challenged workers receive a salary of about 1,200 yuan ($193) a month. They work from 8 am to 4 pm from Monday to Friday.

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