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A Day with the TJSSS students

Written by: Shee Wen Xin

Edited by: Merilyn Lin

In Cambodia, vast majority of the population works in the informal sector and getting a stable job that pays a regular salary is no easy feat. 

According to an ILO-backed 2010 report by the Cambodian National Institute of Statistics, more than 80 percent of workers are in vulnerable employment, such as unpaid family work and own-account work 

The lack of access to skills development opportunities has led to some part of youth underemployment. Living in the village without access to basic educational opportunities and the Internet to widen their world knowledge, many children grow up with a limited worldview and are mostly low skilled. This could trap them in a vicious cycle of poverty and they are prone to unsafe and low paid work in other sectors.  

Recognising the need to equip rural youth and young school leavers with skills to enable them to have successful job opportunities, Training Job Skills For Service Sectors (TJSSS) was started in 2008 by Robert Kee, Founder and Chairman of Operation Hope Foundation.

Hope Training Centre compound

As a new staff in Operation Hope Foundation (OHF), I was thrilled when I was offered the chance to go to Cambodia and learn more about the culture and understand the various programmes that OHF operate in Prey Veng. The Training Job Skills for Service Sector (TJSSS) programme is for rural youth and early school-leavers and I will be visiting the school compound and interact with the students!

When I arrived at Hope Training Centre for the first time, I was greeted by lively and curious students during their lunchtime. I shared with them that I was there to learn more about what my company does and that seemed to break the ice between the students as they soon introduced themselves and cracked jokes amongst their friends. Soon afterwards, they were off to their respective classes and I went together with them.

I was introduced to the English classes and the class was entirely taught in English by one of the teachers. As she taught them the pronunciation, the students echoed in harmony. Podcasts were also played during classes to help the students learn how to pronounce each word properly. Phors, one of the instructors at TJSSS shared with me that the English language was not part of their primary and secondary school syllabus. Hence, TJSSS gives an edge to these poor rural children by teaching them how to communicate in English which is an essential skill to find white-collar jobs in Phnom Penh.

TJSSS students with their English textbook

A TJSSS student was reading a sentence from the English textbook out loud

After sitting in for the English class, I joined the students for their computer classes and the sound of the keyboard typing filled the entire computer room. All of the students were fixated on their screen as they were trying to learn how to type out sentences in Khmer. One of the students told me that typing out in Khmer is harder than typing in English as Khmer has over 20 vowels! Some of the students were sharing with me that it was their first time seeing and touching a computer for their entire life. Due to the poverty faced by villagers staying in the village, they could not afford to purchase computers. Hence, the class that taught the students how to type was to set the basic foundation right before these students learn how to use other software. Software such as a graphics software allows the students to learn video editing and develop the ability to create brochures and also Microsoft Excel functions like pivot and lookup tables to efficiently manage inventory and extract management information.

Students in a computer class and learning how to type in Khmer 

Even though I wanted to observe more classes, especially the Attitude class, time was a constraint. One of the students gladly passed me her Attitude textbook which was filled with articles teaching the importance of moral attitudes. Reflective questions were also included which help students to think deeper. When asked about what they learned from the attitude class, the student shared that she learned that having a good attitude is important in helping her to find a good job and she wants to take what she learned in TJSSS and apply in her job. Discipline is one of the key aspects to prepare students for the working world. No employers like tardy and ill-disciplined employees. TJSSS inculcate a sense of responsibility and the importance of time in the students.

As TJSSS is a fully-paid residential training programme, students have to wash their own clothes and clean up after meals. This prepares them to be independent when they go to the city area such as Phnom Penh to work and have to live alone or with their friends.

TJSSS students playing soccer during their free time in the evening

In the afternoon, I learned from Phors that the students will be playing football. Football is one of the student’s favourite activity of the day and they are always looking forward to it. As I was not in my sports attire to play soccer with the rest, I decided to spend my evening chit-chatting with the other students. Many students have hopes and dreams for the future. One inspires to be an English teacher to teach poor children in her community, as her way of giving back to society. Other students inspire to be entrepreneurs, policeman, etc. But all of their goals remain the same – they all want to have a brighter future, help their family and their future generation break out of poverty. Many of their parents are farmers, and agricultural work is always at the mercy of the weather. Sometimes they could reap the harvest and earn income but when the seasons are not in their favour, they struggle to get through each day.  

I asked them what would happen to them if TJSSS did not exist and they shared that they would take over their family’s farm and be a farmer. Before coming to TJSSS, they did not know that the world out there is so much bigger. Hence, they did not dream big or hope to have some achievements in their life. After coming to TJSSS, this gives them the ability to dream big and the means to achieve their dream!

MY FINAL THOUGHTS

Nobody should be deprived of any opportunities just because of the different backgrounds that they were born into. To all the past, present and future TJSSS students: I really admire your courage to dream big and your heart to break the generational poverty that you were born into. May all of you be transformed through this TJSSS course and be empowered to carve out your own path!

To read some TJSSS students’ success stories, click here: https://ohf.org.sg/success-stories/

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