In Battambang, Cambodia, a lack of skills and jobs are forcing young people to migrate to Thailand. Volunteers on VSO Cambodia's ICS programme are changing that. They’re raising awareness of the places where young people can receive training and government support.
70 year-old Preah Boun has seen this change his community first-hand.
“The community faces a number of issues. Members of the agricultural cooperatives here don’t receive any allowance. They are volunteers and they work because of their passion. They’re mostly young people and later they migrate to Thailand for work.”
This migration is draining much of the talent and workforce of Cambodia. And with long work hours and low wages, those who do migrate are unable to profit from it.
“Although they migrate and make more money, it’s not enough to save. In Cambodia we have a saying – we just have two hands back – it means we come back with what we left,” says ICS volunteer and team leader Makara, 24.
For volunteers like Makara, understanding her community and what they need is a vital step in supporting them with getting access to opportunities. Development isn’t quick.
“We have to do it cycle after cycle – it takes time. It’s why we have to engage and inform them again and again. Because people don’t know about the opportunities here, they migrate to Thailand,” she added.
“We work with young people to help enrol them in the job centre. They don’t know what TVET (Technical and Vocational Education Training) is, or why they need skills to get into work.”
Nom Chentra, 26, was one of those young people who dropped out of school to migrate to Thailand for work. “In Thailand I used to work in a factory. I decided to come back because there was no one at home to help the family.”
A referral made by ICS volunteers helped him enrol in TVET. He now has an internship and hopes to one day own his own agricultural garage.
“At the TVET institute I have learnt maths, computer, economics, Khmer culture and mechanics. I have been here for five months so far, and have just finished the first month of my three-month internship at an agricultural machinery company.”
“The company pays me an allowance ($100/month). After my internship I hope I can work more and get experience and in the future and open my own garage. I hope that the government will open up more training for youth employment so that we don’t have to migrate to Thailand.”
Nul Toh, 19, understands that for many families, the short-term reward of work holds them back from investing in their children’s further education. “They don’t let their children go to school, because they think short-term about their future. Instead, they want them to farm. They rule out school because they are worried about the money.”
That’s changing as parents are seeing ICS volunteers as role models for their children.
“As young Cambodian volunteers, parents see us and feel proud and impressed by us,” said Toh.
“They want their children to grow up and be like us and study. We tell their children, ‘if your mum and dad do not support you to study, support them to understand’. Create opportunities for yourself.”