Beyond skills: when the UNESCO TVET Programme for Vulnerable Youth writes success stories

Admin (Lebanon)
2021-11-18 Link

Lebanon seems to be stuffier than usual, and it is not just about the weather. Since the political unrest in late 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic, the deteriorating economic condition, and the following shortage of necessities have played out across the country, cramping everyone’s life, especially for youth, who cannot easily find jobs under such lacklustre socio-economic conditions.

Like many of their peers in Lebanon, Reham and Ismail, two young people in their 20s from Syria and Lebanon, respectively, struggle deeply in this situation. Neither of them had a regular job for long. Ismail remained out of work for three years, while Reham, as a mother of two daughters, was mainly looking after her family and taking care of the housework. When they heard of the UNESCO Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programme, from their families and friends, both of them decided to enroll and give it a try.

This programme provides youth with short-term and accelerated vocational training in several areas (phone repairs, sewing, tailoring, catering, etc.) to empower them and help them integrate into the labour market. All the trainings are customized to participants’ and local job market needs. Life skills, basic literacy and numeracy skills, and entrepreneurship courses are also provided alongside the training to provide holistic support to participants.

“When I enrolled, I didn’t expect that this programme would turn my life upside down. It opened a door for me, and my destiny seemed to change ever since,” Reham and Ismail expressed similar feelings. In the programme, Reham chose sewing, whereas Ismail opted for phone repairs.

Before the training, Reham and Ismail had zero knowledge on sewing and phone repair. Nevertheless, after one to three months of intensive hands-on training and practice, they both mastered the essential technical skills in their respective fields, and grew passionate about their work. Having completed the training as the best graduates of their programmes, both of them are now working in their local communities.

“The trainer was very experienced,” recalls Ismail, “He was very nice and patient, and taught us everything we needed to know.” Ismail was offered a paid traineeship and then a formal job at a mobile phone shop, working as a professional phone technician. “My life is totally different from before,” he smiles and continues, “My work is busy, but I like it.” Ismail brings the repair toolkit back home and works extra hours to support his neighbours who always knock on his door asking him to fix their phones. “I barely have free time in the evening, but my work is very fulfilling and also gives me much confidence,” Ismail confides, “I am the only breadwinner at home, but I can fully support my family and myself now.”

The training also changed Reham’s life. “I learned how to operate a sewing machine in twenty-five days,” she says, proudly, “I became more and more interested in sewing and decided to participate in more workshops at my own expense to develop my skills.” Reham's business plan was selected and sponsored under the UNESCO Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Programme for Lebanese and Syrian Vulnerable Youth affected by the Syrian Crisis in Lebanon, which is implemented by the Safadi Foundation. She is currently running a small studio in her community, sewing, tailoring, and recycling old items into new fashionable garments. “New clothes are usually not affordable in my neighbourhood, so there is a huge demand for sewing and recycling,” Reham continues with a big smile, “It is challenging but very delightful work.” Her daughters also endorse her endeavour. “When my daughter saw me sewing, she asked me to make her some clothes. So, I did. She loved them.” Reham and Ismail are not walking alone on the winding path of career development. To facilitate the smooth transition of TVET graduates into the labour market, UNESCO and the Safadi Foundation provide additional support on job placement for the trainees. “We are regularly contacting local companies to seek suitable job opportunities for our graduates,” Miray and Khaled - the project officers of the Safadi Foundation - explain, “We also encourage our students to start their own small business after the training. We either provide practical kits and tools for their work, or grant a seed fund for selected start-up proposals. Reham’s business proposal was great. We sponsored her the sewing machine to start a studio.”

We have seen the power of education on Reham and Ismail through the confidence in their words and the hope in their eyes. “I like drawing and wanted to be an architect. If opportunities arise, I will be brave and confident enough to seize them,” Ismail tells us about his dream. Reham also recounts her future plan, “I would like to expand my business, for sure, when the overall situation gets better.”

Youth unemployment remains prominent in Lebanon, and according to the World Bank, the youth unemployment rate has hovered above 17% for a decade[1]. Empowering youth with technical skills and knowledge not only helps them to find a job, more importantly, it encourages the young generation to live and grow independently. As Reham mentions, “it is very important to be independent and self-sufficient.” This is also the message she wants to convey to all girls and boys going through a difficult situation, “We have to study, learn and stand on our own feet.”

Education is a lifelong journey, and TVET plays a unique role in any country’s social-economic fabric, especially for youth and young adults. Recognizing that youth with any form of TVET training have a better opportunity of finding decent work and earning a living independently, UNESCO leads the way towards youth empowerment.

Reham and Ismail are both graduates of the UNESCO Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Programme for Lebanese and Syrian Vulnerable Youth affected by the Syrian Crisis in Lebanon. The project is funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and implemented by the Safadi Foundation.