A Fighting Chance: How Professional Development Equals the Playing Field
Updated: May 29
The pursuit of happiness, success, freedom, and independence are fundamental rights that most of us feel we deserve. They are often part of measurement indexes of societies’ collective progress. Yet, when it comes to migrants and refugees, these rights are regularly denied and characterized as privileges, instead of fundamental rights.
In looking for ways to deepen our positive impact, we decided to address this issue by creating a program that helps young Soul Food members find the career path that is right for them. In this way we believe that we can help ensure that they benefit from these rights, and help others do the same.
Breakdown of the Program
Like everything at Soul Food, our Professional Development Program revolves around art and culture, and it adheres to the concept of quality over quantity. We do not treat our young members like numbers that will help us reach placement quotas. Instead, we take the time to get to know them and understand their career interests, abilities and goals.
Unaccompanied minors, young refugees and young adult migrants who are wards of the French State are typically not encouraged or permitted to join local youth their age and attend traditional schools and universities, regardless of their abilities, previous education or goals. They are forced to choose a trade and attend a corresponding program in a trade school that includes internships and apprenticeships. If everything goes well, they will find these positions, excel and then be able to apply for a visa, ultimately leading to more stable long-term situations in France. However, it can be quite difficult to find positions in professional establishments, as well as a place in a trade school that corresponds to the trade they would like to do. The French administrators they come into contact with regularly treat them like numbers, without taking their preferences or abilities into account, often resulting in them not having the support they need to adapt to their new lives in France as they attempt to start a career. Sometimes their lack of knowledge about a trade is not taken into consideration and they are pushed into choosing one they do not like or know nothing about. Usually, they are then tied to the trade for years at a time as they fight for their legal right to stay in France. Sometimes their abilities, work ethic and potential are also completely overlooked and instead of being offered prestigious opportunities to match these higher capabilities, they are offered mediocre job opportunities, or worse.
Our program partners excel in their fields. They love what they do and it shows. They are compassionate and understanding about the issues our young members face. They’ve also created meaningful projects that embody values that are important to us, such as sustainability, or focus on meaningful issues such as using local products, fair trade, anti-gentrification, and using some of their proceeds to fund nonprofit initiatives. These partnerships allow us to offer prestigious opportunities to young Soul Food members who are interested in what we call, “careers in culture.” Currently, these include career profiles[*] in the culinary arts (baker, pastry chef, chef), fashion (a variety of positions) and design (carpenter).
“I have an apprenticeship thanks to you. In my opinion, you've built my life. You found a boss for me. It's a good job, a job that I like very much. They [the Ten Belles team] are very nice. They explain [the craft] well and I am progressing well. You [Soul Food] have helped me a lot.”
-Oumar, young Soul Food member and apprentice at Ten Belles Bread
This program requires a lot of administrative and behind-the-scenes work on our part, as we stay actively involved throughout the process and serve as a go-between for our young members, their supervisors, schools, and administrative officials. We also organize meetings, complete with presentations and basic professional development skills training.
Coming Full Circle
In 2020, everything came full circle when some of our young members helped create and execute the menu of our 2nd birthday event, a mini-one-day cultural festival at L’Ami Jean in Paris’ chic 7ème district. It was incredible to work with them and see the fruit of their labor come to life throughout the process.
Some of the dishes on the menu included a mafé, a classic West African dish that many of our young members grew up eating, including Aboudramane, the young chef who prepared it for Refettorio Paris guests and our event, using his recipe and surplus ingredients that would have otherwise been thrown away. Other young members who are also apprentices and interns in our Professional Development Program helped out in the kitchen and brought freshly baked bread from La Pointe du Grouin. They worked hard with their colleagues and supervisors, our partners, to help us create a memorable cultural, community experience. Their contributions were the highlight of the event, and showed a glimpse of what giving someone a fighting chance can accomplish.