Hope for the Future

First Published in Bangkok Post | 20 March 2018

A new programme helps migrants gain additional skills to improve their employment opportunities

Migrant workers, like other kinds of workers, struggle to advance in the hierarchy of the job market. But for them, the endeavour is particularly daunting, with lack of opportunities, financial means and connections.

A programme by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) aims to change that. The Migration Poverty Reduction through Safe Migration, Skills Development and Enhanced Job Placement in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand (Promise), a programme implemented by IOM and funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation, works to promote better employment opportunities and working conditions for migrants, and it has played an instrumental role in improving employment opportunities for them.

Promise, which was launched last year, focuses on skills development, one of four key components of the programme, and aims to equip migrants with technical skills for vocations in in-demand industries, namely construction, manufacturing and hospitality.

Sixty migrants have so far benefited from two training sessions, and there are success cases worth noting.

Working hard for a better tomorrow

For Myanmar migrant Kyaw Kyaw Thu, aka Joey, success has largely been due to hard work, capitalising on opportunities thrown his way and support of genuine friends.

This has worked so well for the 24-year-old, who today manages the snazzy Seven Spoons restaurant, that he often feels it is surreal because of his difficult past. Well, for one he came to Thailand on foot with few possessions and a dismal future ahead of him.

Joey was just 16, accompanied by his mother, they sneaked across the Kawthaung-Ranong border eight years ago. While life was anything but rosy for the determined youngster, his focus was always on how to help his mother weather problems that came with being an illegal migrant.

Through the help of friends, his mother found a job as a construction worker in the initial months of their stay. Fear of getting caught by immigration kept them indoors. It was just a couple of months after their arrival that his mother paid for documents that would allow them to work and stay in Thailand illegally. Since then Joey has worked at numerous places. His eager-to-learn character has earned him many friends, who in turn have offered him work.

In the past eight years of being in Thailand, he has worked in construction, gardening and in the service industry as a kitchen help and waiter. There is no job Joey deems below his dignity. His affable, down-to-earth personality has helped open job opportunities and favour from superiors.

The industrious restaurant manager has proved to himself and his fellow migrant workers that hard work always pays off handsomely. Smart and outgoing, his determination and perseverance has earned him the trust of his employers through the years, including his current employer at Seven Spoons where he has worked as manager for two years. He has 12 employees under his supervision.

Life for Joey has proved that a good set of friends, the right breaks and a passion to learn can open opportunities for advancement that otherwise would not be possible.

"In comparison to a number of migrant workers from Myanmar, I consider myself very fortunate for being given the breaks to reach to where I am today," Joey said.

"From my part, I never shy away from learning something new, even at the expense of people looking at me as a nuisance. It seems surreal how my life has turned out. A migrant with no proper formal education and support from family back home has in less than a decade of residing in a foreign country managed to work with dedication and loyalty to have his employer trust him with the position of manager. I do not take this for granted, and am eternally grateful for everything.

"I believe success comes to people who work hard, look after their parents and family and surround themselves with a supportive group of friends." Joey's ultimate goal is to open his own restaurant.

While Joey's success at the workplace has been a dream come true, he admits that being a migrant worker from Myanmar in Thailand is not always smooth sailing.

"The discrimination I face at the hands of some Thais is rather subtle, so it does not bother me. My friends have had it worse," mused the restaurant manager.

"When I ran my establishment, I plan to treat everyone the same, offering locals the opportunities that were once given to me."

Working towards a dream

Domestic help Nang San Dip, 42, was a year shy of her 20th birthday when she first arrived in Thailand from her native Shan state. She settled in Chiang Mai where she married a Thai.

As an illegal migrant, she was not able to register her marriage, and for the next nine years she went to great lengths to stay clear of Thai immigration. During this time, she studied to read and write Thai.

It was close to a decade after residing in Thailand that she received word from friends that the Thai and Myanmar governments were working towards allowing illegal migrants from Myanmar to work legally in Thailand in certain sectors.

She took this as an opportunity to travel to Bangkok to start processing her documents to become a migrant, not knowing that it would turn out to be a lengthy process. After getting her documentation, the first thing she did was register her marriage, and got a work permit to help at her husband's business selling and fixing mobile phones.

Unfortunately for Dip, her close to 10-year relationship with her Thai husband dissolved after he took on a minor wife, setting her on a path where she would become financially independent.

"I returned to Bangkok and got a job as a domestic help/nanny. The first two families I worked with were foreigners, but the third one, whom I have been working for over five years now, are Thai. They have been good to me. I have little to complain. I have board and lodging, food and enough salary to send back home and keep a fraction with me.

"As a migrant Myanmar domestic help the only problem I face is that we are expected to work around the clock, unlike our Thai counterparts that have fixed time. Finding good employers is not easy, so I attempt to not let this get me down," said Dip.

"Myanmar workers are known to be hard working, so there enough jobs to go around for us. The problem is more about getting good employers, they take a grantee on us so if you do not get a good employer they can make your life miserable."

A keen learner, Dip has benefited greatly from IOM's Promise project for offering her the opportunity to get additional skills as a domestic worker.

"The IOM programme has benefited me tremendously, especially the class where I was taught first aid. As a domestic worker/nanny I believe this will come in handy. The Rembrandt Hotel Bangkok partnered with IOM for the classes I attended on house keeping. I really enjoyed participating in these classes because they taught us a bunch of new skills, including the importance of sanitation," she said.

"At the end of the course I felt encouraged and confident about my future. It is my dream of starting my own coffee shop. I am grateful to be given this opportunity as a migrant to learn. Education for a migrant is priceless."

Wednesday, August 7, 2019