Swedish Bakery brings “new life”

It is six o’clock in the morning. The Bangkok-Chiangrai coach has just arrived at Chiangrai bus station. Many of the Thai and foreign visitors sleep-walk across the street into a small cafe on the corner. Suddenly, once they open the front door, a nice smell of freshly baked bread, cakes and cookies brings an unexpected homely Scandinavian atmosphere to the scene.
      The little cafe on the corner is Baan Chivitmai bakery, a Scandinavian bakery decorated in original Scandinavian bakery style with wooden furniture, colorful curtains and tablecloth and all kinds of Viking bakery stuffs.
      “Sawasdee Jao” – the northern Thai dialect of “Hello” – says the young hill-tribe girl behind the counter, calling us back to the real world.
      Baan Chivitmai bakery is the latest creative initiative of the Swedish funded Baan Chivitmai Foundation in their search for ways to help hill-tribe children get better lives. The foundation has been established by Swedish missionaries Dan and Eva Olofsson who came to Thailand already back in 1966 to work at first with people suffering from leprosy in the Surathani province.
      In 1991 they started the first Baan Chivitmai activity in the Klongtoey slum area in Bangkok with the aim to help children and teenagers from poverty stricken families. Later, they expanded this into a day care center for handicapped children in the same area.
      In 1992 they further initiated “The Flower Training Center” to help many young girls who were at great risk of slipping into prostitution by teaching them to produce textile flowers for the Scandinavian market. The centre not only increased the young girls’ self esteem and confidence, it also provided income for offering Baan Chivitmai educational scholarships to other children.
      The same year, Baan Chivitmai extended its work to Chiangrai in the North of Thailand with the support of a group of Thais interested in giving especially hill tribe children the opportunity to go to school as well as preventing them from being sold to prostitution.
      In 2001 Baan Chivitmai formally became a foundation. The same year, the foundation expanded its work to help and nurse orphaned children living with HIV and AIDS in the North of Thailand. Lookings for ways to generate the funds for their humanitarian work they got the idea to create the Baan Chivitmai Scandinavian style bakery.
      The bakery is located in the heart of downtown Chiangrai, facing the bus station on Phra Sop Suk road.
      “We choose this location to aim at local Thai customers more than tourists,” Mr. Manit Wandee, the Manager of Baan Chivitmai bakery explains.
      “We rent the premises. The owner would like to sell it for five million baht, but we are not able to buy it at that price,” he adds with a smile.
      On its first day of operation, the bakery only sold for 160 baht. Soon, however, it increased to between two and three thousand baht per day.
      “We realize, that we lack some experience, but we intend to go on with it and learn as we go along, because profit is not the most important aim for us. We can also use this place to teach occupational skills and give an income to young boys and girls from the region,” Mr. Manit Wandee says.
      Eventually, they hope that the bakery will become profitable and make the foundation’s work less dependent on Swedish support in the future.
      The employees all come from the main Baan Chivitmai home in Baan Hua Doi and two of the girls are currently studying at a bakery school in Sweden in order to return and help the bakery.
      Weawnapa, a 16 years old Karen girl, has been working in the bakery for 9 months, learning how to bake and how to serve.
      “Many customers come in with the morning coach from Bangkok, but my busiest hours are actually in the afternoon,” Khun Weawnapa says.
      “In the afternoon, most of our customers are local young people but also some walk-in foreigners. It gives me a chance to see more people and practice my English. I feel my English has improved quite much from this job,” she says
      Rungnapa is a 16years old Ahkha girl working in the bakery as well.
      “I love to serve customers, to give them good food to eat and something nice to drink. And I am happy to be able to earn money for my Mom and Dad. With the money I earn here, I am able to support my sister to go to school..”
      Weawnapa and Rungnapa are both trained by Mee Tuo, a 30 year old Ahkha girl from uphill in Mae Jan, whom the Baan Chivitmai foundation sent to study Scandinavian bakery in Sweden and in Laos.
      “I teach and train all our young students,” Mee Tuo says.
      “I am happy to see myself improve and see, that I can do so much more for other people.”
      Baan Chivitmai ‘s goal is to give young boys and girls not only an education, but meaningful life, increased self-esteem, human dignity and hope for future.

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