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Women in training at the Blossom centre in Siem Reap. Photo supplied
Women in training at the Blossom centre in Siem Reap. Photo supplied

Cupcakes from Siem Reap to Cebu

Later this year, five Cambodian women who have graduated from the Siem Reap training centre set up by Bloom – makers of what are arguably the country’s most scrumptious cupcakes – will travel to the Philippines to help set up the social enterprise’s first such outfit outside the Kingdom.

“When we opened [in Siem Reap] three years ago, we started with eight girls,” says general manager Melissa Stock. “We’ve since had 42 graduates, and we love knowing that this program is working so well that we can take it over to other countries to empower more women.”

Bloom’s first training centre opened in Phnom Penh six years ago; three years later, the decision was taken to open a similar centre in Siem Reap. (The Siem Reap centre was named Blossom, because another small business in town was already using the name Bloom.)

The concept at Bloom and Blossom is straightforward: to teach young women to bake, design, decorate, make great coffee and run a business – so that they can build a better future for themselves and their families.

“These are girls who don’t have any job skills,” says Stock. “[Our role is] to provide them with career opportunities to survive and support their families, even though they might not have had a formal education.”

Intricate Mehndi henna designs have long been used on hands and feet – and now on sweets. Photo supplied
Intricate Mehndi henna designs have long been used on hands and feet – and now on sweets. Photo supplied

Stock says the five women setting up the new centre in the Philippines will stay in Cebu for several months prior to its March opening; after that they will travel regularly between the two countries.

“It’s amazing because, for several of them, their English skills are so high now that they [are able to] communicate only in English in the Philippines as they teach,” says Stock.

Bloom’s program trains applicants for 12 weeks in baking, sugar decorating and barista skills. They are then hired by Bloom in Phnom Penh or Blossom in Siem Reap, where they get a fair salary, a yearly increase, healthcare and additional skills training – including weekly lessons in English and accounting. All of that helps them to get jobs in the competitive and growing tourism sector, says Stock.

“[It’s] a level of professionalism that would enable them to work in five-star hotels and four- or five-star cafes as baristas,” she says.

Among the more recent skills learned is that of Mehndi, a regional variation of henna design. That stemmed from a visit to Siem Reap last year by Mehndi practitioner Sumita Batra, who counts stars such as Madonna as clients.

The intricate henna designs are commonly used for women’s hands and feet at wedding celebrations in India, but the team decided to adapt it to cake art – using their sugar decoration skills to design a new line of cookies and cakes. This clever mix of ancient and modern will likely prove as popular in the Philippines as it has in Cambodia.

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