Pedalling for Equality : 5,000 km across Europe

Pedalling for Equality : 5,000 km across Europe

Can you introduce yourself in a few words? 

Hello, my name is Diane Robert, I am 21 years old and I have just completed a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science at McGill University in Montreal. 

Where did you get the idea to cross Europe by bike? What is your itinerary? 

Since I started my studies at McGill, I had planned to take a gap year after my Bachelor’s degree to discover new countries and new projects. I did not have a specific plan as I wanted to give myself the opportunity to push myself beyond my limits and adapt to different circumstances. With Covid, the idea of going further and further away was replaced by the desire to take the time to discover places closer to home. This, combined with the thirst for freedom and meeting new people, gave me the idea of discovering Mediterranean Europe by bike. 

Why did you decide to get involved in an associative project?

I did not want my project to be just a personal adventure; I wanted it also to have a positive influence on people close to me and to be useful to others. Being particularly invested in gender equality issues, I wanted to carry out a project with a concrete impact in this field, as well as supporting an NGO concerned with this issue. Through awareness, education and fundraising, I wanted to participate in the improvement of the economic and social situation of some women, whilst opening the debate on these issues to those around me. 

Why did you choose the Bayon School ? 

I firstly wanted the funds collected to go to an association whose name and effectiveness I knew. I particularly appreciated the work of the Bayon School and its focus on education, which I felt was the most effective way to have a short, medium and long-term impact on individuals and society as a whole. Within the School, one project particularly resonated with my values and commitments. Your Pastry and Bakery School allows young Cambodian women from underprivileged backgrounds living in the Angkor temple region to have access to quality education and to promote their professional integration at the end of the training. In addition, I had the chance to visit your center during a stay in Cambodia and I was touched by your commitment to stay close to the children, young people and families that you support on a daily basis.

How will the funds raised be used?

The goal is to raise 2,500 euros; this amount corresponds to the complete training of a young woman at the Bayon School of Pastry and Bakery. It includes the student’s food and lodging, all courses and related expenses, school supplies and uniforms, a bicycle to facilitate transportation as well as the monthly allowance.

Why does the issue of gender equality interest you so much? What do you think you can contribute? 

Firstly, it is one of the themes that affects the largest proportion of the population. It is also a theme that is often misunderstood or misinterpreted, leading to debates that are often poorly researched and therefore counterproductive. In my opinion, equality is the most basic justice. The courses I have taken on this topic have allowed me to form clear and critical thinking, with the conviction that change is possible, through action but also through reflection. While it is necessary to improve the situations of the most vulnerable people in this regard, I believe that it is equally crucial to raise a constructive debate at the societal level in order to change certain mentalities. I hope that, by sharing quality resources and taking the time to listen to various opinions, I can improve my knowledge on the subject, promote this questioning in the minds of new people and present or support concrete proposals in this direction. This is why I would like to ask one question of as many people as possible that I’ll meet along the way: “In your opinion, what should be worked on as a priority to reduce gender inequality?” 

Equality is the most basic justice.

So if I ask you “In your opinion, what should be worked on as a priority to reduce gender inequality?”, where would you start?

Education. I think that we must start by observing society to take into account gender differences in order to denormalize and de-banalize certain phenomena. For example, it is not normal for a woman to feel unsafe in public places just because she is a woman. Street harassment should not be seen as normal and inevitable when a woman goes out. Similarly, it is not normal that a woman does not have the same opportunities as a man to access quality education, stable employment and security. Sadly, these inequalities do exist. I believe that the first step is the actual recognition of these inequalities, the study of their sources and their consequences. Only then can we hope to find solutions to reduce them, or even to erase them. This is what I hope to do by communicating personally on the subject and by showing my commitment to projects like the Bayon School. 

What would you like to discover or learn during this trip? 

During this trip, I aim to take the time to cross different European countries, getting to know the local populations, eating and sleeping in their homes. By doing so, I hope to understand the many European cultures, which are both so diverse and varied, but yet so similar to ours. I would like to learn from them, from their reflections on their society and on these questions that I ask myself. I would also like to grow, to learn about myself, about my mistakes and my successes, to confront difficulties and to observe how I face them.

Can we follow you on your journey? 

Yes of course! I will share my adventures on my Instagram page (dianerobert8) and prepare some other small surprises for you. I cannot wait to “take” you with me, so that you too can discover a little more of Mediterranean Europe, the Bayon School and the solo cycling life! 


See you soon!

Job placement: an issue for the year 2020

Job placement: an issue for the year 2020

The Bayon School is facing a complicated problem: finding professional opportunities in a sector, which has been greatly impacted by the total halt of tourism in Cambodia. The students will graduate at the end of December 2020 and our role is help them achieve financial security once they leave our program.  

From family to employer

We train young women from disadvantaged backgrounds in bakery and pastry making, thanks to a practical and highly professional training that enables them to find a job quickly in a field that, until February 2020, was experiencing a boom. Our support does not stop at the graduation ceremony and we accompany the students to the door of their first employer. We also help them in their search for accommodation (usually a small shared room) as they cannot return to stay with their families, who live too far away and often have little understanding of the reality of the working world in which their daughters will be working. We therefore support our students each step of the way to ensure their safety during this transition phase.


la 6eme promotion de l'école de pâtisserie
filles sur des vélos

Partners who are going through the crisis

After 6 years of existence, and with more than 80 graduates, the school has acquired a certain reputation among the hotels and bakeries of Siem Reap. The top chefs of the town recognize the quality of the training program, coming regularly to choose students at the end of the year; 90% of jobs are generally found in the Siem Reap network. This year, because of the COVID crisis, 78% of the town’s hotels have closed or ceased operations. Our partners for internships and professional placements have no openings to offer us so we still have to find professional opportunities for the 26 students of the 6th promotion (one quarter more than in 2019).

Phnom Penh, a growing local market

Cambodia’s capital city is home to a growing wealthy population, with a middle class that frequents international hotels, cafes and restaurants. Bakery products are popular and more and more Cambodians are buying French bread or pastries. At the beginning of November, our teams went to Phnom Penh to meet potential future partners. Renowned companies such as the Thalias group (a chain of top French gourmet restaurants in Asia), Kayser bakeries (7 branches in Phnom Penh) and Brown Café (a chain of luxury coffee shops) have shown an interest and 9 openings are currently available. 5 other students have already found jobs in Battambang and Siem Reap.

The young girls are sometimes very apprehensive about going to the capital (traffic, cost of living, …) so we accompany them in this next major step in their lives, doing our best to help them integrate structures, which will take charge of their care and their meal expenses.

Etudiante de pâtisserie entrain de réaliser un dessert
étudiantes posent avec un bouquet
Chef juge étudiantes de pâtisserie

The 7th intake

The students of the 7th class of the Bayon school will start on January 4, 2021. We have made a strategic choice to recruit only 15 of them so as to respect the rules of social distancing but also to avoid the risk of training students, for whom we may be unable to find work. The Cambodian government forecasts 20,000 tourists for the year 2021; this may be the glimmer of hope much needed by the tourist industry in Cambodia.

Coffee Shop : self-finance

Coffee Shop : self-finance

Bayon Pastry School was created in 2014. Our first intake was composed of ten young women, all from underprivileged backgrounds in Siem Reap province. As the first year of our training ended successfully, it seemed essential to increase our capacity to make it accessible to a greater number of young women and families in need. The idea was to make this vocational training sustainable.

In 2015, Bayon Pastry School’s Coffee Shop opened its doors. The objective was to self-finance a part of our pastry vocational training. Pastries, viennoiseries and all kinds of breads are produced every day. The recipes are carefully elaborated by our Khmer chef Sokhoeurn Morn, also pastry school director. Her creations are then cooked by the production team mainly composed of former students of the school.The students, on the other hand, receive daily instruction in our two lab: pastry and bakery. They also learn, through the coffee shop, the basics of waitressing. Since its opening, the coffee shop has grown steadily and can now accommodate 30 people. It is now one of the most famous coffee place in Siem Reap city for its pastries but above all, for its quiet environment. This « corner of heaven » is sheltered from the hubbub of Siem Reap and its famous noisy « pub street ». To allow a good service, the coffee shop now counts 3 waitresses and 3 young girls work in the kitchen.

The pastry school also receives orders from restaurants, hotels and spas of Siem Reap. With a dozen regular customers, we are currently able to deliver different varieties of breads and pastries every day across the city. Among them are Bodia Spa, hotels Mémoire, Maison Polanka or even Sala Lodges and restaurants Bakong, Georges Rhumerie or Le Bel Air.
In summary, from 3 years, the coffee shop sales has been enabling us to self-finance 47% of the budget of the pastry school. This last year 2018/2019, we even reached a rate of more than 50% of contribution. And 23 students benefit from our baking and pastry training for free thanks to the Coffee Shop incomes!

Another great way to get involved with our association, another way of giving : a good cake for a good cause !

Bayon school – Dealing with COVID-19

It has now been close to four months that COVID-19 has spread across the planet. Even if Cambodia has officially registered very few cases and no deaths, the country has not been spared and its population is suffering from the loss of jobs and the lack of tourist activity. Bayon School is doing their best to help the families during this unprecedented crisis.

Support the families – The first urgency

Since mid-March, no tourist has been allowed to enter the country and the large majority of the hotels, restaurants and spas have closed, leaving thousands of workers with no jobs and no compensation from the Cambodian government. Many of our families have been affected, losing their primary source of income which allowed them to meet the basic needs of 8-10 people. Furthermore, the children who used to go to school were being fed breakfast and lunch at the canteen, one thing less for the parents or grandparents to provide. Now they are at home and need feeding by their families, adding an additional charge.

Faced with this critical situation, Bayon School reacted quickly. From Week 1, all the vegetables grown by the famers invested in the Green Project were bought by the NGO and then distributed free of charge to the parents of our pupils. This guaranteed a salary for these women farmers and the insurance that the children would continue to eat healthy vegetables. In addition, our social teams studied the families very closely and we started distributing rice to those in desperate need from the second week after the school closure. Special thanks to our donors and the company AMRU Rice for their precious support, which allowed us to finance the rice and vegetables.

Closure of the Pastry School and Coffee Shop – What happens next?

At the Pastry School, we had to send our 26 students back to their families and, as a result and out of obligation, close the shop. The Coffee Shop of the Bayon Pastry School, opened more than 4 years ago, covers 50 % of the budget required for the pastry/baking training programme. Its closure means a significant loss of income for the NGO, which we have been able, in part, to compensate through the generosity of our donors. After two weeks of adjustment and holidays for the catering staff, we put in place several projects in preparation for the re-opening: inventory, storage, planting in the gardens, painting the walls, Spring cleaning, … In the end, the team was very busy. In addition, Sokhouern and Sokly developed a brand-new range of bread with no fewer than 10 new references for sale in our future bakery. They had the time to test new recipes to ensure a wide range of products that we will be able to offer the hotels and restaurants once they can re-open. Finally, since the end of April, the teachers have put in place online lessons for our students, who, each day, receive videos and telephone calls to keep them up to date and help them revise their lessons.

Social follow-up, survey and report

Our social teams have been very committed during this period. They worked firstly on identifying the families with the most difficulties in order to help them in the best way possible. This crisis has also given us the possibility to take a big step back and analyse the impact of our actions on the children and their education. A further study was led with the alumni of the Pastry School, with the aim of updating the details of our former students, analyzing their career paths and reviewing their situation one to five years after graduating.

And our communication?

We have launched the huge undertaking of redoing the website for Bayon School. It will be revealed soon! And we are trying, as best we can, to stay in touch with all the friends of Bayon School, who, we know, stand by our side. An enormous thank you for your help which has allowed us to manage this crisis and help our families as much as possible. We hope to reopen the schools very soon and see again the happy, smiling faces of our pupils as they play outside.

New work space at pastry school

New work space at pastry school

The Bayon Pastry School has begun its sixth school year with a new intake of 26 students. The site has been transformed from its modest beginnings and the training programme is now highly professional and well known in and around Siem Reap.

Our experience has led to a growing reputation and our students find jobs easily once they have finished the programme. Over the last 5 years, 86 students have graduated and found stable jobs.

What’s next? We want to grow and improve our training site as well as the quality of our bread. Our students are trained mainly in pastry but we want to develop our bread-making programme. With this in mind, we have decided to create a new baking laboratory for use by our students.

Let’s find out more from Sokhoeurn, the head of the Pastry school:

What are the objectives of this new work space?
The main objective is to extend our premises to allow us to recruit more than 25 students per intake. In addition, up until now, we have concentrated on pastry and the equipment we use is not particularly adapted to bread-making. We would therefore like to invest in more specialised equipment for this new programme.

What has changed compared to the old pastry lab?
Apart from giving us more space, the major improvement has been made in reaching required standards of hygiene. With this new work space, we will be able to operate in compliance with international standards of hygiene and food safety.
Have you invested in specific equipment?
We have invested in the small equipment which Is essential for break-making, as well as a dough-making machine, spiral mixers and an oven. I am particularly proud of the investment in the cold storage room which will enable us to manage our stock better. These recommendations were made by Lesaffre and Arizta, our partners on this project.

What are your projects for the future?
We would like to improve the quality of our bread and then promote it in Siem Reap. We want our students to realise how important bread is; they need to understand that it is the equivalent of the rice that we eat with every meal in Cambodia!

A very big thank you to all our sponsors, this project could not exist without your loyal support : Aryzta, Fondation Sodebo, Lesaffre, Kitchen Aid ; and not forgetting severals donators who gave in honor of Irene Meister.

Another school year comes to an end at the Bayon School…

Another school year comes to an end at the Bayon School… and before we know it, another group of students has joined the pastry school whilst nineteen new little ones fill the empty benches in the Kindergarten class. Such is the life of a school: some move on, leaving the space open for others to integrate our classes. There is always a lot happening, which is how it should be! Initiatives come to light, ideas abound, things take shape, the teams get on board and new projects come to life…

The 2018/2019 school year started at the primary school with an overhaul of the teaching system, following recommendations made by Rodrigo and Anaïs, after their audit of our pedagogical set-up.• A new primary head has been recruited and the teaching team has been renewed, giving preference to full-time contracts, which allows us to put in place extra support classes for children who may be struggling.
• Two new buildings have opened their doors; a computer classroom for the pupils of Grades 5 & 6, as well as a library with over 400 books in Khmer.
• A brand-new canteen and water management system have been inaugurated.

These investments have only been made possible through the generous support of our sponsors and donators. Without them, we would not be able to achieve so much. An enormous THANK YOU!

Our secondary students participated in the monthly careers events with professionals who came to present their jobs. A jewelry designer, HR in a travel agency, accountant in an NGO, manager of a hotel: very diverse worlds come together to talk to our students, allowing them to project themselves into a professional future which is not really that far away after all. This year, they were also lucky to be able to participate in an intercultural exchange with students from the Lycée Français of Singapore, which was rich in emotion.
The vegetable gardens have never produced as much as this year; it really was a bumper crop! 80% of the canteen’s vegetables were grown locally and ecologically in the plots of the 8 families involved in the Green Project. Every day at daybreak, 25 Kg of vegetables arrive by motorbike, tuktuk or even bicycle to allow our cooks to prepare the meals for our 250 pupils, who start lunch at 11 o’clock for the youngest amongst them. It is quite a marathon to keep the families motivated as market gardening really is a daily enterprise with no time for rest. This year, we have been able to equip each family with an automatic irrigation system, allowing them time for other activities such as weeding, harvesting, pest control, etc.

At the pastry school, 21 young women graduated at the end of August. With their diploma under their arm, they set off towards a secure professional future in the hotels in Siem Reap or Phnom Penh and/or in the bakeries looking for qualified labour. These students, who joined us in September 2018, were unrecognisable when they left; shy, reserved and unsure of themselves at the beginning, they left us brimming with self-confidence and armed with a trade that they can and must promote. We are astounded by their capacity to learn and absorb so much in only 12 months.

The new students who arrived in August 2019 have already taken their first steps in the pristine Bakery Lab, which we have just inaugurated and which will enable us to train more students in better conditions.

The Bayon School is moving forward – thanks to its teams and numerous loyal donators who believe in its project. Let’s continue together!

Please find attached the Activity Report for the year 2018/2019 for further details on what we do.