A story by our AYAD volunteer Allan.
It is early morning when Heng gently taps me on the shoulder, smiles and asks if I’m ready. We are to visit and monitor a former Mith Samlanh student of Heng – Ratana (not his real name) – in his new role.
The workshop, close to the airport is a long ride from town. As we pull up to the huge iron gates I’m not sure what to expect. Wondering if Heng is lost and has pulled over to look at a map I’m startled as a man suddenly greets us through a small opening in the high gates. It is Reng, owner of the welding shop. He welcomes us into his workplace before engaging us in short, friendly conversation.
The two politely stop allowing me to ask questions. It is an impressive workshop filled with four large truck bodies. Each truck has a team of men working in different sections. Two men work on an engine of one truck while on another employees lay beneath tightening bolts and screws. Another truck body, at the far side of the yard is being prepared for a colourful spray paint.
Reng opened the business in 1986 taking it from a small backyard operation to a two property workshop lead by four supervisors. Being employed by Reng seems like tough work “work quality has to be very good. If not perfect then it has to be started again.” While it did indeed sound tough it also seemed like an invaluable learning experience. Most students begin their apprenticeship working on lower quality housing gates and fence frames. Here with Reng they begin work on truck bodies and frames which require much more precise and detailed workmanship. It is a very difficult job but Reng is happy provide the opportunity to willing students.
Ratana understands and appreciates the quality of teaching “The owner is strict on quality which means if an employee leaves this workshop for another then he will have much more skill and will be well respected within in the new workplace.” Ratana has impressed Reng so much thus far that he intends employing another Mith Samlanh student in the near future.
Ratana is being paid $50USD for his first month of employment which will increase each month until he is fully qualified. Once qualified, Ratana will earn an estimated $300USD per month. This is a good wage in Cambodia where the average monthly wage reaches $50USD per month (Asean Comparative Wages). This will increase even further if Ratana secures a supervisor position which is entirely possible given his glowing report from Reng. In addition to his wage Ratana is provided with comfortable accommodation at the workshop and three meals each day. Working hours are 7:30am-5:30pm with a two hour lunch break. This is excellent for a 21 year old student who has spent only one year studying at Mith Samlanh.
I can only imagine the background Ratana has come from and the difficulties he has faced to reach this point. It must be an amazing feeling gaining independence, confidence and further knowledge in his trade. Without an organisation such as Mith Samlanh it is entirely possible that Ratana may still be on the streets. I marvelled at the fortunes and hard work of this young man has he smiled and continued his work during our conversations.
After further discussion it is time to let the men get back to work. We wave and smile goodbye, leave through the opening in the huge iron gates to return to the Mith Samlanh center, where Ratana’s amazing journey began.