“This is a good country for find the dreams,” says Mustafa Ahadi, his soft, slightly broken English interrupted by the clatter of glass bottles being packed into boxes for shipping. He is taking a break at Fruitvale’s House Kombucha, a small-scale producer of the mildly fermented tea beverage, where he works in the warehouse. Ahadi is an Afghan refugee who was previously a medical translator with American armed forces in Kabul. He made his way to Oakland with his wife last year through the International Rescue Committee, looking for a new start away from the fear he says characterized his everyday life in Afghanistan.
Ahadi has found that new start through the Bread Project, a free workforce development program based in Emeryville that works with low-income residents, including refugees and people returning from prison. Project participants take classes in industrial food and beverage preparation, acquiring skills they can apply in bakeries and restaurants; the project’s “social enterprise,” an in-house kitchen that prepares food for local organizations such as Williams-Sonoma and the Berkeley Unified School District; or, in Ahadi’s case, at House Kombucha.
Bread Project Executive Director Alicia Polak says the program’s employment placement rate is 81 percent and cites the range of “soft skills” that participants learn, such as interviewing and resume preparation, as one of the reasons for that success. “Once they get a job, we have follow-up services for 15 months,” Polak says. “They can come back, we call them, we check on them. So there’s a lot of support built in. And I think it goes back to their training. We provide them with really good training.”
Since they arrived in the United States, Ahadi’s family has grown to include a baby boy. Ahadi dreams of mastering English and using his work at House Kombucha as a jumping-off point to return to medicine, perhaps in the form of a degree in public health. But most of his dreams are for his son, who he hopes will return to the family business as a doctor— this time at Highland Hospital.