Shanghai Young Bakers: Wang Li

Shanghai Young Bakers: Wang Li

By Sonia Su

Wang Li, a teacher at Shanghai Young Bakers, poses with a smile in front of the SYB booth at the Jiashan Market.

Five years ago, Wang Li would have never imagined that she would go from working in a toy factory in Guangdong Province, to teaching other disadvantaged Chinese youth how to bake French bread and pastries.

'I find that I can relate a lot to my students, because we come from similar backgrounds,' Wang said.

Wang still recalls fond memories upon beginning at Shanghai Young Bakers, a charity program that launched in February 2009 by a team of 12 French volunteers aiming to French bakery training to those who need it most. SYB held its opening ceremony for the program’s first students at luxury hotel Sofitel Shanghai Hyland, adding to what Wang describes as one of the many good first impressions.

‘I had never been to Shanghai before, and I was very happy,’ she said. ‘I was very impressed by the dorms, and the French teachers were all very polite.’

SYB students practice how to make French treats and then sell them at the Saturday markets.

Wang still keeps in touch with Chung To, the founder of the Hong Kong-based charity Chi Heng Foundation who helped connect her with the opportunity to escape the life she said she didn’t want to live.

‘He is someone very important to me,’ Wang said.

One of the first students to be recruited for SYB and to receive help from the Chi Heng Foundation, Wang has earned a French bakery diploma from France’s top-ranked bakery school, Ecole Française de Boulangerie et de Pâtisserie d'Aurillac. Thanks to sponsorships from the Carrefour Foundation, Accor Foundation and yeast producer Lesaffre, students are able to train in French and Chinese bakeries with four- to five-star hotels while taking classes. Upon graduation from SYB, students are equipped with the skills to follow their baking pursuits, with the top three graduates sent to study further and earn coveted diplomas in France.