CHIANG RAI, Thailand (April 2012) _ Twenty-three-year-old Meetee Porsae worked low-paid odd jobs since the tender age of 12 to support her frail parents and two younger sisters, and to help pay for the education of her older brother. Until recently, she did not even know how to read or write.
“I never went to school because my family couldn’t afford it. I have an older brother, and he was chosen to go to school instead of me. I felt a bit sad, but I knew that my parents needed me to help them,” said the young woman, a stateless ethnic minority from a hill tribe in Thailand’s northern Chiang Rai province.
“However, my brother finished only grade 9, and then he got married and left the house… I knew that if my brother left the house, the burden would fall upon me as the oldest daughter. It is difficult to get a job in my area, as I have no identity card to prove that I was born in Thailand, so I couldn’t dream of any future.”
Meetee is one of the 1.3 billion young people between the ages of 15 and 24 who are transitioning from adolescence into adulthood and entering the global adult workforce over the next decade. This under-25 “youth bulge” – up to 60 percent of the population in some developing countries – represents the largest cohort of job seekers ever.
However, only 300 million new jobs are expected to be created, and to make matters worse, most of these young people come from poor households with scarce resources. Their future will likely hold few opportunities and continued poverty, making them vulnerable to exploitation, violence and extremism.
Plan International is tackling this challenge by providing vocational training for young people in the poorest communities around the world. In Asia, Plan is focusing in particular on those who face discrimination and are marginalized, including girls and young women, ethnic minorities and stateless people.
In 2011, Plan trained 165,148 people in agricultural, vocational and business skills. Here are the stories and voices of young people Plan has trained in Thailand, Timor-Leste and Indonesia.
Stateless and illegal
Meetee is one of more than one million stateless people in Thailand, who are undocumented and lack basic rights.
“Most of the stateless are not be able to access government services like health, and they cannot travel, get jobs or education because they are not Thai citizens and do not have birth certificates,” said Chanchai Thongsumrit, a vocational training consultant for Plan Thailand. He noted that for young women, it is harder to find work, putting them at risk for child labour and human trafficking.
Meetee’s first job, at age 12, was at a factory in Bangkok, where she earned US$125 a month. At 14, she was back in Chiang Rai, selling clothes for $80 a month. Her boss gave her raises, and by the end of four years on the job, she was earning $150 a month.
“It was so difficult for me to do other jobs because I was unable to read and write, so I had no choice. Any job that earned me money, I had to do it,” Meetee said.
At 17, she landed a job at a hotel in Chiang Rai, where she cleaned, washed and helped out in the lobby and restaurant, still earning $150 a month.
Then the head of her village told her that Plan Thailand was looking for 30 young women who were stateless or from poor families to be trained, for four months, at no cost to the women, at the Chiangsaen International Institute for Skill Development in Hotel Management.
She signed up for the programme – Plan’s Livelihood Advancement Business School (LABS) – and learned about working in restaurants, making hotel beds, and cooking. She also received support for a formal education, individual counseling and mentoring.
After the course, she was promoted to officer at the lobby front desk, and got a hefty raise to $250 a month, enabling her to better support her family and even pay for her younger sisters’ education.
“It was sometimes difficult for me to read and write, but the school provides knowledge step by step,” Meetee said. “Although I am stateless, I have no more worries about my future because I have a good job to support my family.”
Plan in Timor-Leste is working on a number of projects that aim to provide skills and employment opportunities to young people in the capital and beyond.
Acacio Pinto, 25, the child of subsistence farmers, is a beneficiary of one of those projects. He grew up in Lautem, a poor, rural area about 6 hours’ drive from the capital. His parents did not have enough money for him to go to school beyond the second grade, so he dropped out and started selling firewood in a local market.
Years later, when he heard of a Plan scheme to train young journalists and place them with a local radio station he jumped at the chance.
Acacio and 11 other young people spent three months learning reporting and computer skills at Lautem Community Radio station. Plan organized the training and provided computers, voice recorders and other equipment.
When the Timor-Leste Media Development Centre (TLMDC) in Dili contacted Radio Lautem looking for new staff, Acacio’s boss recommended him.
“At first, I was a little bit scared,” he says. It was a big challenge for a “country boy,” as Acacio puts it, to come into the big city. “I knew there would be a lot of competition, and I would have to meet important people, like government officials. So I was scared, but I was happy, too.”
Easier to get a job
When 19-year-old Budi “Santi” Susanti graduated from high school last year, her father thought it was time for her to get married.
She took on a factory job to earn some money, but after four months, she quit because the hard work and the four-hour commute from her home in Grobogan district in Indonesia’s Central Java province were not worth the low pay.
“In my mind, after graduating from school I had to get a job because my parents’ financial condition is poor. I did not want to burden them, but I know that looking for a job does not mean I can take up any work. Without skills and experience I couldn’t get a decent job,” Santi said.
Then one of her friends invited her to join the Plan-supported Youth Economic Empowerment (YEE) programme. After three months of unemployment, Santi decided to sign up, and then spent four to five hours a day in the five-week programme to learn communication, self-confidence and entrepreneurship.
Launched 2010 and now implemented in Grobogan and Rembang districts of Central Java, and Lembata in East Nusa Tenggara, the programme teams up with employers to provide the knowledge and skills needed.
Over the first three years, YEE aims to assist 4,000 young adults, 15-29 years old – 80 percent of them women, for whom it is more difficult to enter the labour market. They have fewer employment opportunities, and most young women currently work in informal, low-wage jobs.
According to Plan Indonesia, one YEE session had 88 participants – about half of whom landed jobs, including Santi.
“I did not have to wait long. After completing the training, I received two job interviews,” Santi said.
After interviewing with a coffee production company, she was asked to start work the following week as an operator with a decent salary. She has been working there since February.
“Because I was already accepted here, I decided to cancel the interview with Indomaret mini-market. It has been such a surprise that with the skills and confidence I got from YEE, I found it easy to get a decent job,” said Santi, who now earns enough for her own needs as well as to provide pocket money for her younger brother.
She dreams one day she will run her own business, but in the meantime is saving money and focusing on gaining experience from her new job.