Jul 24, 2018
Dressed from head to toe in full chef attire, Monica Awalith meticulously and professionally rolls several strips of dough in preparation for baguette orders that have been received the day before.
Almost a year ago, Monica, now 25, barely knew how to bake.
Now though, her baking skills are sharper, thanks to a 12-week hands-on baking course, run by Korean troops deployed to South Sudan’s Bor town.
“At first I thought I would just come here and pass my time,” she says, reflecting on her first days. “But I realized my dream might be – so I have been doing a lot of baking. With the new instructors coming I gained more experience and lot of information on how to bake,” adds Monica, who has returned to the bakery school and is now working on more complicated recipes.
At the centre, classes begin every day at 8:30am in a spotless, fully-equipped kitchen, stocked with brand new baking utensils and ovens shipped straight from Korea.
Monica was first enrolled at the baking school in August 2017 and being back has allowed her to take on additional courses in book-keeping and more responsibility as a manager at the vocational training centre’s market, where she sells various groceries, including what the students bake.
Korean Peacekeepers, who have been serving in South Sudan as engineers since 2013, have been running a vocational training centre aimed at developing ‘self-sustaining’ basic skills amongst young South Sudanese nationals, since April 2016.
Bakery training is one of several courses being offered at the Hanbit Vocational Training Centre. Translated as ‘the light of the world’ Hanbit purposely hopes to shine a light across South Sudan and the beneficiaries of the programme.
“I didn’t like cooking that much, but lately when I cook and most of my customers say what I am cooking is so tasteful, it makes me more excited and I am even proud to tell them that I am the one doing it, so that makes me happy and I am enjoying doing what I am doing,” says Monica who now effortlessly bakes cakes, baguettes, swiss-rolls, brownies, bread and doughnuts, among other assorted confectioneries.
The tutor at this bakery class is 22-year-old Gu Janoon, who is also a student in Global Korean cuisine back home. Little did he know that he would be sent to serve as a peacekeeper in conflict afflicted South Sudan, when he was enlisted in the military.
“I was very worried at the beginning because these students were new to bakery and baking, but I have noticed that all these students are very committed to baking here at the class and also they are fast learners and they follow along very well,” says Janoon.
Both the bakery and life skills learnt from their Korean Peacekeeping tutor have impacted positively on various aspects of life for the trainees. Besides the skills imparted, the centre is breaking gender barriers, too, and diminishing traditional stereotypes associated with cooking – a thing that puts a smile on her face.
“We are so happy that most of the men are coming to our class now … in our traditions, it is against our culture for a man to cook, but now they are changing,” says Monica who is now baking alongside five other new students, in a class with two male students.
Besides the gender barriers, it seems the centre is also melting away ethnic boundaries.
“It also brings unity because we have different people from different states, especially some are from the POC (Protection of Civilians site) and some are from Bor town, and it’s kind of unity, we try to learn from each other what is good,” says Monica, keen on seeing this unity and peaceful co-existence thrive.
Many young people in South Sudan have had their dreams halted by a conflict that has been raging since December 2013. Areas of Bor town suffered as a result, with thousands fleeing due to tribal tensions. Now, though, young people like Monica can roll out their dreams and look forward to a brighter future, thanks to the Korean-run, life-changing vocational training programme.