Business as Missions: Bakery Restores Refugee Women’s Dignity

Read: Deuteronomy 10:18 “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.”

Jolene*, 28, is a young Malaysian on a mission. Having worked as a teacher and support staff at a women’s shelter and with refugee families in Malaysia for many years, she has observed some very heartbreaking trends.

Refugees face particular challenges that may be uncommon to most middle-class Malaysians: lack of stable income, inability to afford basic necessities, rent and school fees for their children, and harassment by authorities. Refugee women, in particular, are also vulnerable to exploitation, violence, and sexual abuse with little to no means of seeking justice.

It was this bleak outlook that caused Jolene to ask herself, “What positive impact can I make in the lives of refugee women?” That’s when she began toying with the idea of developing a social enterprise, or “business as part of my mission,” as she calls it.

Business as a powerful tool for change

Business could be a powerful tool for creating social change

Jolene explained that business could be a powerful tool for creating social change. “I hope to not only provide the women with valuable skills and income-generating opportunities, but also help them grow in their faith and offer them a sense of community and support,” she explains.

A bakery seemed the ideal project to kickstart this initiative, so Jolene led the establishment of Life 2 Life Bakery in Klang Valley, which sells baked goods like pineapple tarts, cream puffs, cookies, buns, cakes and even savoury bakes.

By employing refugee women, Life 2 Life Bakery seeks to provide quality baking training, basic business management knowledge and cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit. Such life skills will reduce the women’s chances of being oppressed or exploited, on top of alleviating their poverty.

Finding space to heal and regain their dignity

Jolene shares some heartbreaking stories of refugee women in Malaysia – many of them single mothers – and the reason she is determined to help them heal and regain their dignity.

Lily*, 15, hails from Indonesia, but a tragic event saw her raped by a co-worker and becoming pregnant. She is now living in a shelter and is determined to support her newborn. Joining Life 2 Life Bakery has been ideal as she finds joy in baking and spending time in the kitchen with other single mothers.

Another baker, Sheera*, 27, from Somalia is also living in a women’s shelter with her toddler. She fled from her husband after being sexually abused, and suffers from gallbladder stones that cause sudden, intense pain in her body. She stopped working as a cleaner, and joined Life 2 Life Bakery where the workload and hours are better.

Jolene’s goal through the bakery project is to provide these women with a safe space to gather, fellowship and work. It is also to support their spiritual, emotional and psychological well-being, with the end goal for them to be self-sufficient and overcome future challenges.

Missions to give hope to the vulnerable

Jolene’s personal desire is for refugees to be legally allowed to participate in the workforce. At present, refugees are not recognised in Malaysia as we are not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. As such, we can do our part in practical ways that have far-reaching impacts on their lives and well-being, such as:

  • Purchasing products made and sold by refugees. This provides income and raises awareness amongst your friends and family
  • Raising awareness via social media and through word of mouth
  • Working with social enterprises in the long-term (e.g. regular orders from the bakery)
  • Offering to train social enterprises if you’re a Malaysian business
  • Volunteering with organisations that support refugees, and learn firsthand about their lives, challenges and aspirations

As Christians, may we heed God’s command to the Israelites to “love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19) and to love our neighbours as ourselves (Mark 12:31).

*Names have been changed to protect privacy. This article was originally published in and has been adapted here with permission.

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