|Vocational training: A participant of Youth Career Initiative (YCI) programme prepares a meal at the InterContinental Hanoi Westlake. Twenty-two underprivileged young people graduated from its first cycle and most of them now have stable jobs at hotels and restaurants. — Photo courtesy of REACH
by Lan Dung
Every day, Lo Thi Hoa (not her real name) arrives at the InterContinental Hanoi Westlake at 7am to assist kitchen staff in setting up a breakfast buffet.
After that, she goes back to the kitchen, cleans tomatoes and other vegetables and slices cucumbers, ginger and onions in preparation for the lunch and dinner buffets.
This has been her daily routine at work since August, when she was sent to the hotel to learn how to cook in a London-based programme called Youth Career Initiative (YCI).
The free programme, which the non-government organisation REACH in Viet Nam is hosting, aims to equip disadvantaged young people with career guidance and life skills. Within six months, the youngsters are taught about daily operations at three of Ha Noi's five-star hotels: InterContinental Hanoi Westlake, Sheraton Hanoi Hotel and Hilton (Hilton Hanoi Opera and Hilton Garden Inn Hanoi).
Every Friday, at REACH's office in Nam Tu Liem District, they are taught English and the necessary skills in life, such as communication skills, computer skills, personal financial management skills and teamwork. The organisation provides participants with partial payment for house rent and food every month.
In the second cycle of the programme this year, exactly 32 high school graduates aged 18 to 25 years were selected to attend training courses at hotels. They come from different provinces of the country, especially the mountainous northern areas such as Tuyen Quang and Yen Bai. Some are from ethnic groups, including Tay, Thai and Cao Lan, while others are victims of human trafficking and domestic violence.
Hoa's life has changed a lot since she was given the choice to follow her childhood dream of becoming a highly skilled professional cook. She was the third child of a family of four in a mountainous province in north Viet Nam. Her father drank wine most of the time, and when he got drunk, he beat his wife and children.
"He did many things that we did not expect, and he hit our mom. We were haunted. We felt scared whenever we saw him," she recalled.
Hoa dropped out school after completing her ninth grade. She knitted pine nuts to make car seat cushions and sold clothes and sweets in the market. In her free time, she would help her parents do housework and farming.
Floods devastated her family's paddy fields, and this compelled her family to borrow money from banks so they could start farming again. Part of her earnings was spent on bank debt payment.
Her second brother, who attended the first cycle of the programme last year and now works at Hilton Hotel, told Hoa about it. She registered to take part in the course with only support from her mom.
"She does not want me to have a life as difficult as hers," Hoa remarked.
"People at the hotel help me a lot. I will put much effort into learning cooking, and then find a stable job. When I am more skilful and confident in my abilities, I will open a small food store in Ha Noi," she said with a smile.
Like Hoa, Hoang Thi Mai, whose real name has been changed as requested, feels satisfied with her current life. She refused to reveal one period of her life following her failure to enter a university in HCM City.
Mai wished to work as a receptionist in a hotel. However, in the programme, she worked at a restaurant at Hilton Hotel to practise speaking English with foreigners. She said she wanted to hone her English first, then find a job to earn money for enrolment in college, where she wants to train as a receptionist.
"I felt quite new in the first two weeks and did not know if I could overcome difficulties. However, I have never thought of quitting. At the moment, I understand the service more," she revealed.
"The hotel staff is very helpful. They let me take the initiative to do my job and carefully show me what is wrong and what is right."
When asked how her life was compared with that in the past, she just said: "Much better."
The participating hotels in Ha Noi are in the network of the International Tourism Partnership, of which YCI is a part, and have been training participants since last year. They have since received good comments on their performance.
Ngo Thi Van Hanh, Training and Talent Development Manager of InterContinental, said: "Most of the trainees have a good attitude, are willing to learn new things and don't mind working for a few extra hours. With such good comments, hopefully the kids will grow up and have a bright future after graduation."
Pham Thi Thanh Tam, executive director of the organisation, said participants have faced lots of difficulties while taking part in the programme.
"They have never worked in a professional environment and have to take time to get used to it," she added.
Tam noted that the YCI programme has scored successes because of the close co-operation between REACH as a non-governmental organisation, and the hotels as enterprises.
There are 22 participants graduating from the first cycle, and most of them are working at hotels and restaurants. Some were recruited to work at the same hotels where they were trained, and some received the support of REACH in finding a job.
The organisation is expected to carry out the programme in HCM City next year. There will be more underprivileged Vietnamese youngsters getting a chance to find proper jobs, pursue higher education and improve their lives. — VNS