K’s story – from garbage dump scavenger to trained cook.
Ms K lived in a rural area of Vientiane Province with her grandmother and young brother until she was 15. Her parents, very poor farmers, left their children and traveled to Vientiane to earn a better living. They found work at the municipal landfill, 36 km south of the city. They lived on the dumpsite, everyday sorting through garbage to look for plastic and metal which they sold to the recycling companies located just outside the site.
When K was 15, she completed Grade 3 and was still only halfway through her primary education, but her parents felt she was now old enough to earn a living and they couldn’t support her education any longer. So she had to travel to Vientiane Capital herself, to work on the dumpsite alongside her parents.
She hated it. The landfill is an immense site of over 10 hectares covered in hills of rotting garbage piled on mud. The smell is terrible, and K complained that everything was so dirty. The health hazards for all the workers, either adults or children, are extremely serious: small wounds become infected quickly and workers contract respiratory diseases and other infections from the lack of hygiene. K cried as she worked, but her parents had no other options and the family badly needed the income.
The Peuan Mit Mobile School truck goes out to the landfill once a month to provide non-formal education and life skills training to children working on the site. The team also advertises the various services of the Peuan Mit program, including vocational training. K was very interested in the vocational training restaurant. So after discussing with the Mobile School team, she and her parents went to the city to visit the restaurant and the dormitory, meet some of the social workers and the students, and discuss the conditions for studying with Peuan Mit.
K knew that she wanted to leave the dumpsite and that she would like it better at the restaurant. Her parents were happy to find a solution for her. They agreed to the training, first because Peuan Mit could take care of her accommodation and meals, and secondly because they knew in the long run this would yield much better opportunities for their daughter.
K started studying at Makphet, the Peuan Mit restaurant and proved to be a very good student, both hard-working and eager to learn. She did very well with the teachers and got along with the other students at the restaurant, and in the residential center. She graduated after 18 months of training as a waitress and cook, in April 2012. She was very happy and her parents were extremely proud of her.
The Peuan Mit job placement officer (part of the reintegration team) helped her prepare her CV and go to job interviews. She quickly found a good job, because of her positive attitude, her strong skills, and her very good references. Since May 2012, she has worked at an ice-cream parlor in the city center, where she earns 700,000kip per month. That is a good starting salary for such a young woman, and it allows her to rent a house with three other graduates of the Peuan Mit vocational training program, and to support her grand-mother and little brother in the countryside. Her future hopes are to get married, start a family, and to open her own restaurant and become a chef. But for now, she is quite happy living with her friends and working in the ice-cream shop.