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BETHLEHEM: Salesian Bakery is model for successful micro-enterprise

Bakery provides food assistance to people in need while also selling bread

(MissionNewswire) The Salesian Bakery is a historical institution in Bethlehem, located in the West Bank just south of Jerusalem, that has been in operation for 120 years. The bakery provides food assistance to those most in need through the free distribution of bread to the poorest families while also selling bread to those who can pay for it. During Ramadan, the bakery opens at 1:30 a.m. for Muslims who observe a strict daily fast from dawn until sunset.

“This loaf of bread is called ‘hamam,’ which means pigeon, because of its shape. Here in Bethlehem, we’re the only ones who have always made it,” said Ibrahim Matta, who serves customers and kneads bread throughout the night. “The bread comes in 14 different sizes in white and whole wheat. There is never sugar added to the bread so it is safe for those with blood disorders. It’s made with flour, salt, yeast and water.”

Matta is proud of his work, which he learned from bakers who came from Italy to Bethlehem. The local Salesian vocational school has been hosting baking workshops to help carry this work forward with a new generation.

Since 1891, Salesian missionaries have been living and working in Bethlehem, initially establishing an orphanage for boys and then later expanding programs to meet growing local needs. Today, Salesian missionaries provide a range of educational and social activities to support the local community. Salesians offer a technical and vocational training center, the bakery, a youth center, and a scouts group.

“The bakery was initially used to feed the boys, who soon numbered almost a hundred,” explained Father Gianni Caputa. “A few years later, Salesians decided to sell the bread to the public. There is a little green card someone can put in if they cannot pay for it, so they receive it for free.”

This initiative has helped to launch others including a new project with 18 Italian non-governmental agencies working in Bethlehem to help the economic crisis in the region. The “Start your business” three-year project was launched by the Italian organizations with the support of the Salesian Italian Agency for Development Cooperation to create new micro-enterprises.

“One hundred businesses have already been incubated and eventually there will be 120 start-ups,” said Gigi Bisceglia, coordinator of the project. “These include small businesses and individuals who have started work in tourism, handicrafts (soap and cosmetics production), and service providers, such as a call center for finding doctors and booking blood tests where there is no public health support. These micro-enterprises have come out of vocational courses for women and youth.”

Luigi Bisceglia, who is a part of the project and teaches at Bethlehem University’s School of Business and Economics, explained, “What we are trying to do is an attempt to provide business in a sustainable way. The Salesian bakery, with its ability to redistribute bread to the neediest, has been a form of social enterprise since its inception and an example of what we are trying to accomplish.”

Bethlehem has a population close to 25,000 people and an economy that is primarily tourist driven. According to UNICEF, poverty in Palestinian territories including the West Bank, Gaza and Bethlehem varies district to district. Along the Gaza Strip, poverty rates have risen as high as 60% with residents relying on food assistance from the United Nations. Over half of the population is under the age of 18, and children in the region grow up amid frequent outbreaks of street violence sparked by ongoing political turmoil.



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ANS – Palestine – Salesian bakery in Bethlehem: bread, love and development

Salesians in Bethlehem

UNICEF – Bethlehem Poverty

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