Jolene*, 28, is a young Malaysian on a mission. Having worked with refugee families in Malaysia for several years and women in particular, she has observed heartbreaking trends.
Many refugees are unable to afford rent, basic necessities or school fees for their children simply because they lack a stable income. Refugee women are also vulnerable to exploitation, violence and sexual abuse with little to no means of seeking justice.
“With legal challenges and other factors, many do not enjoy a sustainable and dignified income,” Jolene shared. These women also face the responsibility of caring for the upkeep of the home in addition to looking for income.
It was the heavy dreariness of such a future that caused Jolene, who has been working as a teacher and support staff at a women’s shelter, to ask herself, “What positive impact can I make in the lives of these refugee women?”
Business as mission goes beyond band-aid solutions, creating opportunities for sustainable change
Looking to empower refugee women in a sustainable way, Jolene began toying with the idea of developing a social enterprise. “Business as part of my mission,” as she calls it..
“I believe that business can be a powerful tool for creating social and environmental impact, and by leveraging market mechanisms and business models, I hope to not only provide the women with valuable skills and income-generating opportunities but also help them grow in their faith and offer them a sense of community and support,” Jolene explained.
A bakery seemed the ideal project to kickstart this initiative, and so Jolene spearheaded the establishment of Life 2 Life Bakery.
The bakery makes and sells all sorts of baked goods, from pineapple tarts to cream puffs, cookies, buns and cakes. The treats aren’t just on the sweet side; savoury bakes are part of their repertoire too.
By employing refugee women, Life 2 Life Bakery seeks to provide quality baking training, basic business management knowledge and an entrepreneurial spirit.
“This project will not only help to alleviate their poverty, but it will also help to reduce their chances of being oppressed or exploited if they can make a living from a skill recognised by society,” Jolene says.
Her zeal and determination are evident, and rightly so, for she has heard firsthand the raw and painful experiences of refugee women in Malaysia.
In the midst of floury counters and hot ovens, women are finding space to heal and regain their dignity
Lily*, 15, hails from Indonesia. Unlike others her age who spent their days in school, doing homework or hanging out with friends, she worked with her mother at a mamak stall. Her life had its rhythm and the days rolled by, until a tragic event last year.
“At 14 years old, Lily was raped by a co-worker. She became pregnant and is now living in a shelter for protection, but is determined to support her newborn. As she finds joy in baking and spending time in the kitchen with other single mothers, joining Life 2 Life Bakery has been ideal,” Jolene shares.
Another baker, Sheera* is living in a women’s shelter with her toddler. The 27-year-old fled from her husband after being sexually abused.
Jolene further reveals that Sheera has also been diagnosed with gallbladder stones, causing sudden and intense pain in different parts of her body.
This medical condition has prevented her from being able to work as a cleaner, but the workload and hours at the bakery have proved more manageable for the young mother.
“Sheera is not just supporting her child and herself; she also has other children living with their grandmother in Somalia, and she hopes to be able to financially support them as well.”
Through the bakery project, women like Lily and Sheera learn skills in baking, food preparation and hygiene which would increase their employability in the F&B industry.
When the women come together, the physical space becomes a safe haven for them to gather, fellowship and work.. Through the interaction, many women have developed meaningful relationships that have brought about healing and growth.
“We hope to provide a space for mentoring and discipleship programs, to support the spiritual, emotional and psychological well-being of refugees. The goal is for them to be self-sufficient and able to overcome challenges they face,” she explains.
Expanding the meaning of missions by following Jesus’ way of giving hope to the vulnerable
For Jolene, her pivot from teaching to business stemmed from an unrelenting desire to see refugee women build a brighter future for themselves and their families.
“Business as mission is an opportunity for projects to become financial sustainable. When that happens, growth can take place and greater impact can be made,” she explained.
Life 2 Life Bakery hopes to show how financial inclusion benefits local economies, even though this initiative only represents a fraction of the whole picture.
Here are some ways that Malaysians can support refugees in practical ways that have far-reaching impacts on their lives and well-being:
- Purchase products made and sold by refugees. This provides income and raises awareness amongst your friends and family.
- Raise awareness via social media and through word of mouth.
- Consider working with social enterprises in the long-term (e.g. regular orders from the bakery) as this helps build sustainable growth.
- If you’re a Malaysian business, offer to train social enterprises. This will help well-meaning organisations to support beneficiaries and the communities they serve.
- Volunteer or serve with organisations supporting refugees to learn about their lives, challenges and aspirations.
Jolene’s personal desire is for refugees to be legally allowed to participate in the workforce and talent pool and be an official contributing member of society.
At present, refugees are not recognised in Malaysia as the country is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention.
“Overall, my desire to pursue business as mission is driven by a combination of social, environmental, financial, and spiritual considerations, as well as a belief in the power of the private sector to create meaningful impact,” Jolene said.
You can make a difference by praying for the refugee community living in Malaysia.
- Pray for refugees in Malaysia who do not have the right to work and thus struggle to make ends’ meet. May they be granted the opportunity to work legally and earn a fair wage to support themselves and their families.
- Pray for refugees in Malaysia who do not have access to education. May they be granted the right to education and be provided with the necessary resources and support to learn and grow.
- Pray that refugees who require medical treatment will have access to affordable medical care and that they will be financially supported. Pray that God will use people in the medical field and move their hearts to help sick refugees.
- Pray for refugees in Malaysia who hope to be resettled to another country for a better future and more rights. May their dreams and aspirations be realised, and may they be granted a safe and secure future in a new home.
- Pray for organisations and individuals working to support refugees in Malaysia. May they be blessed with the resources, wisdom, and perseverance to continue their important work and make a positive impact on the lives of refugees.
As we observe International Youth Day this month, we honour many young Malaysians like Jolene who are obediently serving the Lord day by day. To explore Life 2 Life Bakery’s baked goods or place an order, head over to their Instagram page here and drop them a message.
*Names have been changed and photos have been withheld to protect privacy