Children pass by here on Saturdays, early in the morning, comfortably seated in their parents’ expensive cars, on the way to the mountain resorts of the Carpathians. It’s the moment when machines at the Concordia Bakery are silenced, after five days of continuous work.
Cars are vrooming. The eyes, well hidden behind pricey sun glasses, stare only at the road. Families going up and down the ring road of Ploiesti, an industrial city 60 kilometers away from the capital Bucharest, famous for its oil refining installations which caught Adolf Hitler’s interest and brought the country a tragic alliance with Nazi Germany back in the 40s.
After the 1989 anticommunist upheaval, workers spent a decade constructing and then revamping the ring road. Driving from Bucharest to Brasov, the crown jewel of Romanian mountain tourism, you can’t restrain from asking yourself how the hell one could have gotten here, to see the Concordia project, had it not been for the taming of the linear wild fields by construction workers. But here, at Concordia, there’s no sign of hell. Actually, for those who have lived most of their childhood on the street, it is heaven on Earth.
Somewhere on the left, as the cars indifferently pass by to Brasov, the NGO has erected facilities dedicated to the reintegration of street children.
- Started by an Austrian immediately after the fall of communism, Concordia is one of the oldest organizations on the Romanian charity market. For the past 20 years it has provided a roof and food to thousands of children. However, as social integration cannot be reduced to housing and food, Concordia started to look for ways to provide a more efficient frame to offer a real chance to street children.
First the idea was drafted on the laptops of Concordia’s executives; then it grew outside, brick by brick, until the first housing facility was ready, and, as the final pieces made the puzzle, it triumphed just like in the symphonies of Austrian classics, when the first click-clacks of machines were heard inside the bakery.
At the beginning of last year, after a 500.000 euro investment, Concordia Bakery was opened. At first, 16 teenagers recruited from those the foundation looked after attended bakery and pastry courses. And they did it under the coordination of Andreas.
Love and flour
A 27-year old Austrian, Andreas Resch could well be the face of an advertising campaign promoting faith in humanity. Under his guidance the first promotion of trainees graduated the foundation’s bakery classes. He now supervises a new series of students and seems unstoppable in his efforts to turn street children into future reliable employees.
Watching him work reveals what a monument of devotion he is. Without even knowing, the 25 students he currently supervises have put their derailed destinies into Andreas’ hands.
His presence here is actually a love story. He arrived to Romania six years ago, choosing to work as a volunteer instead of going to the army, and ended up staying. He should have left after a year, go back to his family and take on his father’s butchery. But Andreas wanted to bake bread. Then another thing happened. He fell in love with a girl at Concordia. Later they bought a house near Ploiesti. But this was not enough for the dynamic young man. He wanted more. He wanted to save street children.
His business card now reads “Production and Quality Manager”, but this is just a corporate headline which does not say too much about his work. Andreas spends the whole day in the bakery, wearing an apron, his arms whitened by several types of flour. He’s not the typical manager and journalists hereby report that he is the first executive they’ve seen to work side by side with those he supervises.
- On the other hand, the Bakery itself is not the average working environment. During the day, students learn to make bread and prepare pastry products. At nighttime, two hours before sunrise, the professional bakers – four graduates of the first class – start work, baking bread for deliveries and sale. Moreover, here, trainees make bread to feed the 400 children the foundation looks after.
Words like mother and father
Both students and graduates have learnt that simple words can have different meanings. Especially words like “mother” and “father”. For them “mummy” and “daddy” are people working at Concordia. Down at the bakery, mummy is Georgeta, a hefty and tender woman who has a 30-year experience in the bakery industry and who teaches street children all the secrets of the bread making process.
At the end of the week, when the bakery shuts down, “mummy” and “daddy” are off work. A few steps away from the campus, on the ring road of Ploiesti, steering the wheels to the mountain city of Brasov, families get into the weekend mood. The road gets crowded with cars sheltering children whose parents never take days off.
These are kids with normal lives, enjoying their age unaware of possible menaces outside. Their parents have had normal lives, with a house and a home, where they grew up after having had the time to be kids.In a way, this is what Concordia is trying to offer for the street children.The mechanized machines inside the bakery play a significant role in helping them to grow up. The bread comes in second. Sometimes this pattern is successful, other times it fails.
No one can guarantee that the classes taken here will be sufficient to help graduates integrate at a future workplace.
However, let’s imagine that, one day, a person driving on the ring road of Ploiesti will turn the head just for a minute and look at the Concordia campus remembering how his or her hands had rolled dough there, years before. That day the project’s mission will be accomplished.
Until then, the current 25 students who daily learn more and more about baking bread entrust Andreas and Concordia with their lives. One day they will realize it was their own hands that saved them.
- The research work for this story was possible with the support of ERSTE Foundation. The story is also published on the Austrian foundation’s new website – socialintegration.org.