Young people from very poor communities in Vientiane Capital and Vientiane Province in Laos have very little opportunities to complete their primary education, and most of them do not progress to secondary school. Vocational training centers are still fairly rare, even in Vientiane, and most of them are completely out of the reach of very poor families who cannot afford the fees. As a result, young people in vulnerable communities tend to become more and more marginalized. They tend to be trapped in the poverty cycle, which puts them at risk of exploitation, trafficking, or various forms of abuse.
Friends-International responds to this lack of opportunity through its Peuan Mit program, which provides not only professional training, but safe accommodation and psycho-social counseling to students throughout their stay in the program. Peuan Mit runs a vocational training restaurant named Makphet aimed at vulnerable and marginalized youth. Peuan Mit’s reintegration team also helps young people start their own business for find employment once they graduate from vocational training.
Mr C and Ms H are both former Makphet students. Mr C. is from Xiengkhouang province, but came to Vientiane province to stay with his relatives and look for work when he was 23. He was quite poor then, and was hoping to find better employment opportunities in Vientiane. He studied at Makphet for six months, before he had to go back to Xiengkhouang following the death of his father.
Ms H grew up in Vientiane Province. She dropped out of primary school when she was a child to help her family on the farm. She was also from a very poor family, and because of her low level of education, she knew it would be difficult for her to find employment. She started studying at Makphet in late 2007, at the same time as Mr C, although she was only 18 at the time. She graduated two years later.
It was not included as one of the various social services provided by the Peuan Mit program, but during their studies, C and H fell in love and decided to get married. After H graduated in 2009, she went to Xiengkouang to live with C and his family. In February 2010, they opened a small noodle shop together. Peuan Mit provided the initial investment need to buy the equipment and rent a small booth in one of the biggest markets in Xiengkhouang province.
The restaurant quickly proved to be very successful. C and H specialized in making various different kind of noodle soups, as they found this was the most successful with their customers. The Peuan Mit social workers continued following-up on the business for over a year, and each time they went up to the province, they found the menu had expanded a little, and that many local customers enjoyed the food.
In the middle of 2011, C and H decided to move their noodle shop to another district because the rents went up in the provincial capital. They are still doing very well. With the money they saved up, they started building a house, and during the last visit of the Peuan Mit social workers, H was pregnant with their first child. They were also very happy last year to see the Peuan Mit team including their former student friends who visited them during the trip to collect recipes for the Laos cookbook!