EMERYVILLE -- Just weeks ago, 31-year-old Zamir lived in Afghanistan with his wife and children. He had worked at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul as a programs management specialist for 10 years.

"The bad guys threatened us," Zamir said. "I got a phone call. They called me a spy and said, 'We're going to kill you.'"

He pulled his children out of school.

Now the Zamir and his family lives in Oakland, and the children will return to the classroom.

"You have to take the opportunities," he said. "You have to start from zero."

Zamir graduated Friday, along with four other refugees and three immigrants, from The Bread Project's three-week bakery-producing boot camp. The nonprofit teaches food-industry skills to low-income people and helps them find jobs. The refugees' last names have been removed for their safety.

"You can teach anyone cooking. It is very visual, very hands-on," said Valerie Afroilan, associate director of programs at The Bread Project. "Students not only learned technical baking skills, but also soft skills and job-readiness skills."

The International Rescue Committee partnered with The Bread Project and had its first group of refugees complete the boot camp in March.

Rafi Amini is a refugee from Afghanistan. He graduated with the class and stayed on as the outreach community organizer and translator.

"It's great. (The Bread Project) is creating an opportunity for them to get a job, like me," he said.


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This graduating class includes three refugees from Afghanistan, one from Iran and one from Eritrea. They and immigrants from China, Taiwan and Vietnam sat facing pizzas and cupcakes they made for the ceremony and family, friends, community members and the media. They each accepted their certificates and gave brief speeches to thank the people running the program.

"Some people come in only being able to say hello to being able to work in the food environment with people from all over the world," said Richard Hung, the baking instructor and development coordinator. "It's like a steppingstone to the American dream."

Without her husband, an Iranian woman came to the U.S. just a few months ago. Because of her gender and her Baha'i faith, she faced persecution. She worked as a teacher and hairdresser behind closed doors, and her children had to come straight home after school.

"They don't think we are even allowed to live," she said in translated Farsi. "I'm born again. I'm ready to start over."

For nearly everyone, the food industry is a career change. Their work experience in their home countries often is not transferable mainly because of education.

Ahmaddin lived as a refugee for almost a decade in Djibouti, a country in East Africa.

"It was horrible, but I was fortunate to get some jobs," he said.

Ahmaddin taught English and worked in a shipping company's office but does not expect to get similar jobs in the U.S.

"Next for me is I'm looking for a job," he said. "It's really difficult. You need work experience, and I don't have any here."

Jamshid worked as a security officer at the U.S. Army's Camp Phoenix in Kabul. He left his mother and sister in Afghanistan a month ago. They communicate often using Skype.

Since women cannot work in Afghanistan, he said he wanted to become a doctor to support them. But school would have put a financial burden on the family, so he did not attend college.

On days off, he played soccer and volleyball with friends, but violence loomed. Suicide bombings occurred every week or every month, he said.

"My life was at risk as a consequence of my work," Jamshid said in translated Dari. "I'm really happy that I'm graduating this program. Hopefully, by achieving my certificate here and my (food) safety card, and now that I have a resume and stuff, I can find a job as soon as possible; 100 percent, definitely, I want a job."

The graduates can receive counseling and help finding a job and from The Bread Project for up to 15 months after they graduate.

"Some of them have already gained employment," Afroilan said, "and for the rest of them, we really want to help them find jobs."