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Youth in Chad win grant for genius plan to bake a way out of poverty

Blessed Carlo Acutis and St. Francis

Carlo Acutis via - Saint Francis By Renata Sedmakova via Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 12/08/23

The “Francis of Assisi and Carlo Acutis International Award for an Economy of Fraternity" supports young people who serve those in the most need.

The Italian Diocese of Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino is following the guidance of Pope Francis in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti, awarding grants to “change-makers” who are working to renew their local economies.

The award, the “Francis of Assisi and Carlo Acutis International Award for an Economy of Fraternity,” is only in its third year, but it has already granted more than $150,000 for community-based projects in underserved and impoverished regions.

St. Francis Bl. Carlo Acutis award presser
The press conference at the Vatican’s Film Library.

Named for St. Francis and Blessed Carlo Acutis, the award is a nod to the encouragement of Pope Francis to found a new relationship with our poor and marginalized sisters and brothers. Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has often cited St. Francis as an inspiration for his outreach to the poor. As for Blessed Carlo Acutis’ relation to the award, its website writes:

“Inspired by Saint Francis, Blessed Carlo Acutis, entombed in Assisi in the Sanctuary of the Renunciation, is himself an example of the ‘economy of fraternity,’ especially for the young. His deeply Eucharistic spirituality was made manifest in his love for the poor, distinguished not only by almsgiving, but closeness to and befriending those in need…”

For young change-makers

The award was initiated by Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino on October 10, 2020, the day of the Beatification of Carlo Acutis. Its aim is to promote fraternal economic projects from the grass-roots level and to inspire those with “scarce economic possibilities.” The award, which comes with a $50,000 grant, is focused on encouraging those under the age of 35 to take on leadership roles and organize projects that could benefit the entire community. 

The winner of the 2023 “Francis of Assisi and Carlo Acutis International Award for an Economy of Fraternity” comes from the African nation of Chad, for a project titled “Bethlehem, the house of bread.” The project organized the opening of a bakery in which poor and disadvantaged boys and girls could make food for themselves and the community in Baïbokoum, located in southwest Chad, a country with one of the highest poverty rates in the world.

In Baïbokoum, Christians are a minority and are among the poorest of the poor. The region also suffers from poor agriculture due to a lack of means and the people are ill equipped to process what raw materials they can harvest. Much of the local economy is driven by alcohol production, with few jobs to go around. The situation has left many young people in extreme poverty, with most of them unable to go to school and many of them falling into alcohol or drug addictions. 

The project was organized by 12 young people with the support of the Angeline Franciscan Sisters. It teaches baking skills to children, as well as lessons on the “economy of fraternity.”

Baking their way out of poverty

The award’s grant allowed them to purchase machinery to widen the scope of their baking operation. Proceeds from the sales of their baked goods are reinvested into the project to ensure the bakery can restock raw materials, and to provide regular payment to the young bakers. 

At a December 5 press confrence in the Vatican Film Library, which presented the 2024 edition of the award, Sister Roberta Arcaro, head of the Secretariat of the missions of the Angeline Franciscan Sisters, was on hand representing the winners of the 2023 edition. She said of the grant and her work with the children of Chad:

“The prize did not serve to build a bakery, but to change mentality. Ours are kids who live in an environment of total poverty but who are now trained to manage what will be produced. We are trying to work as if we had to leave the next day, leaving the work in the hands of the kids. Training requires us, not only to learn the trade but also to train men and women.”

The project has already grown beyond baking, employing more young workers on the distribution side. The project is also considering expanding their operation to produce soap. The award’s website writes

“In addition, relying on the increase in financial resources, deriving from the sale of bread and other bakery products on the local market, using bicycles, through door-to-door calls in the neighborhoods of the city, in nearby markets and at the bakery itself, it is hoped that the model used for the production will be extended to other culinary products and a small laboratory for soap production will be set up.”

St. Francis Bl. Carlo Acutis award presser
A scarf presented to winners of the award.

Visit the official website of the “Francis of Assisi and Carlo Acutis International Award for an Economy of Fraternity” to learn more about this community-changing award. Click here to learn how to submit your application for the 2024 award. 

See the works of “Bethlehem, the house of bread” in the video below.

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