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Star Baker

After setting up her own successful village bakery, Rosa and her fellow entrepreneurs in Angola have created a crisis fund to help neighbours facing hard times

By the Christian Aid Angola team

Millions of enthusiastic amateurs up and down the UK have been glued to the Great British Bake Off for weeks. And while baking is a hobby for some, for the professionals, it’s a business. And for Rosa Domingos and her family, it’s a lifeline.

Rosa’s signature bread recipe will sound familiar to ‘Bake Off fans – at least at first.

‘I start off by mixing the flour with a little hot water, yeast and salt. Then it’s time for kneading. Knead, knead, knead… After that I leave the dough to prove.’

So far, so familiar. But when it comes to the actual baking, Rosa faces an extra technical challenge – her outdoor wood-fired oven. Turning it on and setting the temperature are not straightforward, and while the dough is rising, she needs to fetch firewood herself before lighting the fire by hand. She tends it carefully until the oven is 'blazing hot', and her loaves take just ten minutes to cook.

Star Baker Rosa Domingos has set up her own bakery business in her home village of Santo Antonio

Star Baker Rosa Domingos has set up her own bakery business in her home village of Santo Antonio.

Proactive, outgoing and energetic, Rosa is a natural entrepreneur. She lives in Santo Antonio village in Angola, southwest Africa, and set up her own bakery there in 2017. It focuses mainly on bread products, selling different loaves and rolls to customers locally, and through market stalls in neighbouring villages and towns.

‘The small loaves sell for 50 kwanzas,’ explains Rosa, ‘but if one of our customers has no money, they can give us a kilo of corn for each loaf instead.’

50 kwanzas is less than ten pence. The fact that some people do not have that much is a stark reminder of how precarious life here can be. But while Rosa’s barter arrangement is compassionate towards those with limited means, it also makes sound business sense. A kilo of corn, once milled into flour, can be re-sold for 150 kwanzas.

As anyone who’s set up a business knows, the hard part lies in finding the money to get started. Some entrepreneurs can rely entirely on their own savings, but most need a business loan or an investment backer to help them get going.

Rosa adding firewood to her bread oven. She uses the metal sheets to close up the doorway once her loaves are inside.

Rosa adding firewood to her bread oven. She uses the metal sheets to close up the doorway once her loaves are inside.

For Rosa, the main upfront cost was the bread oven itself. But there are no banks in rural Angola. No matter how good the business idea or how skillful the entrepreneur, with limited savings and no way to borrow funds, there’s simply no money to get ideas off the ground.

That’s why Christian Aid’s local partner, the Angolan Evangelical Congregational Church (IECA), runs micro-credit groups for entrepreneurs. These offer small loans – up to 100 US dollars – for rural women to launch or scale up small businesses. When one woman repays her loan, another can benefit from the scheme, which also offers business management training.

Rosa, along with five friends from the same village, used her loan to build an oven and cover other start-up costs – like bulk-buying ingredients and paying for transport to nearby markets. Each woman has her own oven, but the six micro-bakeries all work together to pool costs and co-ordinate logistics.

IECA focuses on rural women because, while many men move away to seek work in the towns or cities, traditional childcare responsibilities mean that women, especially mothers, need to earn a living closer to home – often with the extra pressure of raising a family alone. Years of war and migration mean that more than a third of households in Angola are headed by a single woman.

As a mother of eight children, Rosa is an accomplished multi-tasker. She and the other five bakers all work part-time, taking turns to sell at different markets. This gives all six women the chance to work flexibly, balancing the demands of their business with their responsibilities at home.

It also, crucially, gives them a regular income to support their families. Rosa’s eldest daughter is all grown up, but the other seven are still at home, with all the daily demands that involves: meals, medicines, school fees, uniform and books.  But thanks to her business, Rosa’s got it covered.

‘My children all go to school,’ she says, proudly. ‘With help from that loan, my earnings from selling bread mean that we’ve got enough to pay for the things they need.’

Rosa and her fellow bakers are all contributing to the village ‘solidarity box’, to support neighbours in crisis

Rosa and her fellow bakers are all contributing to the village ‘solidarity box’, to support neighbours in crisis

But the bakeries aren’t only helping to support these six families. They’re also reaching out to the wider community.

As they repay their loan, Rosa, her fellow bakers and all the other loan recipients in the village are voluntarily over-paying. The extra money goes towards a ‘solidarity box’ – an emergency fund to support neighbours in crisis who are facing unexpected expenses, such as medical or funeral costs.

In many poor rural communities, families have no safety net. With few reserves, misfortunes such as illness, bereavement or a poor harvest can quickly push them over the edge into crisis. Thanks to the generosity of Rosa and her friends – and the Christian Aid supporters who made this project possible – people in Santo Antonio now have something to fall back on.

IECA’s work in Santo Antonio and neighbouring villages in Kwanza Sul province is funded by Christian Aid donors and supporters. It forms part of the Partnerships for Resilience (PAR) programme, which aims to reach 23,000 people in rural areas, and is largely funded by Bread for the World, Germany.