Living at “the bakery” in Bela Vista is a part of the Healing Wings experience that few people forget. Was it the crashing Mozambican house music? The lack of running water, and often electricity? The roof that leaked? The late nights and early starts? Yes these all contributed to some memorable days but during my 9 months staying there what got to me most was the bread. One might think it would be simple, place an order for number of breads the night before, in the morning collect breads and make payment. Alas, nothing is this simple in the bush.
The proprietor – a fierce Mama if ever I saw one – would insist I pay for the Healing Wings breads the night before. I had no problem with this, but when you wake up to find no breads have been baked and the lady has disappeared (with the money) it can be a bit of a hindrance to your morning’s productivity. Unfortunately incidents like this were a regular occurrence. Conversations amongst the ‘Baker Boys’ – as we were known – often revolved around why Healing Wings didn’t have its own bakery. I was looking to get involved in a project at Healing Wings so thought maybe this could be the one, and so the plan was born.
Putting some figures down on paper it looked like it could work financially, and only take 2 months or so to build, or so I thought. That was in May 2008 and building is still not completely finished! Just goes to show just how much previous building experience I’d had! The start up capital was just about depleted by Jan 2009 and things were not looking too positive. “Why did I take on this stupid idea!?” I often asked myself, it really looked like we’d never make completion. Guiding words from friends and family kept me in check and the project ticking over until on the 11th August this year we were finally at a stage where we could test the oven.
The Baker I had employed took one look at the oven and said it wouldn’t work and needed to be re-designed. Just what I needed to hear, but by this stage I was willing to do anything just to see some breads produced. Over the next three days the local builders under the bakers guidance dug a huge hole under the oven to provide for the heat source, the larger it got the more worried I got, until they said it was ready, now just light a fire for 24 hours and it will be hot enough to bake.
24 hours, and about three trees later, I picked up the courage to open the oven door and feel the ‘baking temperature’. Not only was the oven cooler than a summer’s day in
Today, some six weeks later we now have two full time bakers employed and have produced 4700 breads (Pao in Portuguese) and counting. I would like to employ more people but we’re taking things slowly so far, trying to improve sales everyday and keep the project sustainable. It was always one of my original aims to provide lasting employment and skills to the local community but that can’t be done if the business loses money month on month. For now though the figures are looking fairly positive and costs are so far being covered. Over the next few months I would like to earn enough that we can buy the rest of the building materials and finish the building once and for all, but just seeing the employees working hard and the tasty bread produced is enough to show me the project has been a success, however long it may have taken!!