Athidiya is a challenging community close to Colombo. Its a place filled with multiple and complex needs. Job prospects for young people in Athidiya are poor. Employment is the most effective route out of poverty: a good job will provide these young people a stable income and the potential for career progression, which could help to lift their whole family out of poverty.
We have been looking for ways of providing vocational training, for those who may not succeed at school Thanks to the Girl Effect who has provided funding and Harpo Goonaratna a successful entrepreneur with several up-market restaurants, we have embarked on this exciting initiative which has the potential to transform the lives of these young people and they families.
Harpo has recently set up a Hotel and Hospitality school, we have worked with him and his team to develop a project offering training in hospitality and tourism for youngsters from Athidiya. The programme consists of 4 weeks classroom training and 8 weeks placement at a hotel or restaurant.. At the end they will be offered an interview, either in Harpo’s business, or with another reputable employer.
In January Shyla traveled to Sri Lanka and met the trainers form Harpos & Harvard School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. She joined them at one of the two registration days within Athidiya. As a result there were 18 young people on the first course, 8 of which are young women.
The trainees have now completed their classroom phase, and are on their placements at hotels. Things are going well, most of the young people have settled into their placements and within two weeks, one young woman was offered a permanent job by her hotel. Lalitha, a young woman who we’ve known for years, is working at a 5* restaurant in Mount Lavinia. She has been snapped up by the hotel, who has offered her a permanent job even before she completes her training. Her father is a vegetable seller and her mother works only occasionally, and she tells me they are very pleased at her securing a good job. She now wants to train to become a manager within the hotel!. Harpo and the team who run the programme were confident that all who complete the programme will be offered good jobs.
Unfortunately a few young people’s attendance has been sporadic since the group separated after the initial classroom training and they were placed in separate hotels. We did know the level of commitment required on this programme would be challenging for these young people, who have little experience of regular work in their families. Many of their parents and neighbours have casual work – they earn by the day, very few have long term ‘’permanent ‘’ work. The team feel that the biggest issue for a number of these young people is that their parents are not able to offer them the kind of support they need to persevere when the going gets tough.
The poor attenders have been visited, and encouraged. They have all promised to be more regular and the local team will continue to motivate the few that are struggling .
However, most are doing well, and want to complete the programme successfully. Pilla is at the Concorde Hotel in Colombo, and his manager insists he is learning fast, but needs to trim his hair! It’s all very strict. Pilla’s father used to work as a tailor, but became ill and is no longer able to work. His mother is a carer and the family only manage because his older sister has gone to the Middle East as a domestic worker, and remits money to support the family.
We have realised that our training programme for employment in the hotel and restaurant business is not always appealing to young women (and less so to some of their parents) One of the suggestions for addressing this problem is to explore another industry, perhaps hair and beauty. We are a little hesitant to embrace a stereotype, but also are aware that many schools and colleges in the UK have found that hair and beauty courses enthuse some of the most disengaged young women . One of the team was introduced to the woman who runs one of the most successful hair and beauty schools in the country. She trains about 75 young women a year, and everyone has secured a good job with one of the large, reputable salons in Colombo. There appears to be a real shortage of well-trained staff for the industry. This entrepreneur states she has been looking for a way to “give back”, to do something meaningful with her business. Having achieved commercial success, she now longs to ‘’make a real difference’’. She is keen to take on a cohort of our young women. Its early days, but very exciting.
None of this would have been possible if not for the Girl Effect and the support of ordinary people - it’s making an extra-ordinary difference to some young lives.
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