In many cultures, bread is regarded as a gesture of peace and connection, a moment of sharing within the community. In Bulgaria, a movement has started that is strengthening communities, with the simple activity of baking bread. The Bread Houses Network is now covering five continents and is, like rising bread in the oven, still growing.
The Bread Houses Network is a worldwide network of bread houses, striving for community building. They do so by inspiring individuals and communities to develop their creative potential and to cooperate across all ranges of people. Bread houses stimulate dialogue, understanding and cooperation, by bridging ethnic, cultural, racial, economic, and religious divides. They empower communities through stimulating participation of marginalized and disadvantaged people within the community.
The Bread Houses Movement is made up of two kinds of locations: community cultural centers in which workshops take place, and social enterprise-bakeries, in which disadvantaged and marginalized people are trained and employed. These bakeries in a way also become social-cultural centers, as many different people work together in a social enterprise. You can find the first social enterprise-bakery in Gabrovo, Bulgaria. Besides workshops and trainings, there are monthly events in different locations.
The Bread Houses Network was founded by anthropologist Nadezhda Savova, after she visited Bethlehem in 2008. In Hebrew, Bethlehem means ‘house of bread’. A year later, the idea materialized in the house of her great-grandmother that she turned into a community cultural center where people could make bread together, and it was well received and supported by the community. “What I saw first in my grandmother’s house was that people were really hungry for very simple relationships,” said Savova. “It was very clear to me: There is a hunger in society, a hunger among people, and it is not for bread — it is for the relationships that it generates. ”
Working together, participants create not only bread, but also art, such as poetry, music, and most often a ‘Theatre of Crumbs”, in which dough-made puppets become actors in an improvisational play that addresses the issues within the community. At the end, they are shared and eaten. “The idea of Theatre of Crumbs is that we are all the crumbs of one loaf,” Savova says. “The whole experience is deeply emotional and inspiring for all ages, and the final result is that, indeed, all feel part of the same play.”
So why bread? The bread is a metaphor for connection and participation, for intimacy and sharing. Anyone can make it, so anyone could participate in the process. Kneading the dough means that you ‘take you life into your own hands’. In the process, the bread is also a sculpture, in which the creativity of each individual can show. In the meantime, dialogue can take place through the whole communal process. Bread also means sharing, meaning that new friends are made while making and eating bread together. The artistic process also means that people create and not only consume. Furthermore, consensus is reached more easily when people share a meal.
Municipalities are very supportive and are donating buildings to be transformed into bread houses. Also, workshops have been able to take place in schools, hospitals, parks, orphanages, business, homeless shelters and a refugee center. Bread houses have never been regarded as a place to resolve issues, but the movement has long grown beyond Bulgaria. Bread houses have become places where problems are discussed and solved amongst community members while baking bread together.
The programs of the Bread Houses Network include the Bread Therapy Program, the Bread Breaking Boundaries Life-long Learning Program, the Organizational Team Building Program, the HedgeHope Program, the Ecological and Food Education Program, the Bakers Without Borders Program, and the Ovens For Peace Program.
In 2013, nearly 8,000 people were involved in bread house events all over the world.