When the mothers of the CARITAS-Novo Milenio Center presented the community’s children with their signature jumbo-sized birthday cake, they had a lot to celebrate.

This year marked the fifth anniversary of the Grupo Art’Mulher, a group of women who formed a community bakery which sells cookies, breads, handmade pasta – and, of course, cakes!

230278479460523-xy4kit7rbqzekye69udf_height640Novo Milenio is a poor district outside of Lages, Brazil, a country that simultaneously contains some of the world’s richest culture as well as a disturbingly high level of poverty. The Catholic Church established the CARITAS-Novo Milenio Center to oversee some of the efforts to care for this community at a nuclear-family level, focusing on both child and parent alike.

A priest from the Caritas diocese and a volunteer coordinator keep the place running, with indispensable help from community members.

“The community is very united,” says Andreia Beraldo, International Programs Project Specialist for Children Incorporated. “I could see on my first visit that they’re always working together.” This collaborative spirit is part of the reason Children Incorporated was so interested in getting involved with CARITAS-Novo Milenio in the first place. A willing, creative, and practical community helps spread a program’s reach and deepen its impact.

“The community is very united,” says Andreia Beraldo, International Programs Project Specialist for Children Incorporated. “I could see on my first visit that they’re always working together.”

By early 2016, Children Incorporated had funded a successful tutoring program for the eighty children who attend the center, a vegetable garden project, and (through sponsorships) helped cover the costs of food, clothing, shoes, school supplies, and other necessaries.

So when CARITAS-Novo Milenio proposed the idea of a mother-run bakery that would teach business skills and a trade while generating income, Children Incorporated was ready to get on board.

Teach a Parent, Impact a Child

It’s well-known among those who practice social work with Brazil’s children: if you teach skills to parents, you not only benefit their children’s lives, but you also help another generation of Brazilians become more self-sufficient. Of the five projects Children Incorporated supports in Brazil, three of them focus on developing both the parents’ and children’s skills – all with encouraging results.

226341427036341-l9uj5jz4g2ldvh6qjvwy_height640But the bakery, which would be called Grupo Art’Mulher (literally, “Women’s Art Group”), would do so much more than just teach these mothers how to bake. The twenty women who became the program’s first participants were taught how to achieve economic solidarity through the manufacturing and sale of baked goods. The plan was to have a teacher instruct the women on baking cookies, breads, and cakes – and how to sell them.

And sell them, they did! Art’Mulher began making a name for itself at the local market, where its cakes, breads, and pasteis were in high demand.

Of that first group of twenty, many did find jobs making food – and they also found themselves returning to participate in center activities.

“Their increased self-esteem was visible,” remembers Maria Aparecida da Fonseca, the center’s volunteer coordinator. “And this is strengthening the Novo Milenio community.” She credits the program and others supported by Children Incorporated at the center for motivating families to tend to their home gardens, make more nutritious food, and even sell some of their produce at farmers’ markets, and increasing their income.

“Their increased self-esteem was visible,” remembers Maria Aparecida da Fonseca, the center’s volunteer coordinator. “And this is strengthening the Novo Milenio community.”

What’s Next for Novo Milenio?

The eight women who currently bake for Art’Mulher will have good news: the community bakery will be funded another year. But CARITAS-Novo Milenio won’t stop there in 2017; their plan is to initiate music and theater courses in a house across the street from the center. The renovation of that house is also in the plan, and the Art’Mulher mothers’ have donated a small percentage of their bakery income to that very project. That extra space would come in handy, giving the center more space to help more children with more activities.

The ladies from Art’Mulher are sharing the recipe for their popular birthday cake for you to try on your next special occasion!:

White Birthday Cake

Ingredients:

2 ½  cups (215 g) flour

1 1/3 cups (275 g) sugar

1 tbsp + 1 tsp (10 g) baking powder

¼ cup (65 ml) water

6 eggs

1 can dulce de leche

Whipped cream or icing to cover the cake

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Using a mixer, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, water, and eggs in a bowl for 10 minutes on medium speed.
  3. Pour batter into 8” cake pan.
  4. Bake until cake is golden brown and springs back from the touch – about 35 minutes.
  5. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan and let cool completely on rack.
  6. Separate into 2 layers and fill with dulce de leche.
  7. Frost with whipped cream or icing of your choice.

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