The effects of years of colonial rule and conflict in Timor-Leste, Asia’s poorest nation, have been particularly devastating for rural youth. Many are unable to find work, have been forced to abandon their schooling, and lack basic skills. A new EDC program offers them the opportunity to further their education and earn a living.
At least 2,500 youth—more than half of them women—will take part in the program, called Preparing Youth for Work (PAS, the acronym for Prepara Ami Ba Servisu). The three-year initiative is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
“This program is unique in that it integrates work and learning and targets an underserved population—youth that are 16-30, out of school, and living in the districts instead of the capital,” says EDC’s Brenda Barrett. “Most jobs in the country are only available to high school graduates. Eighty percent of those in our program have not completed high school, so without this program, these youth would not have access to work opportunities.”
The program is divided into two six-month phases: livelihood preparation and livelihood accompaniment. During the preparation phase, participants alternate on a weekly basis between the classroom and a job or technical training site. During the second phase, program staff assist youth in returning to school (traditional or vocational), getting a job or internship, or starting their own businesses.
“There is no equivalent to the GED in Timor-Leste, so it is very hard for young people to go back to school,” says Barrett. “One of our goals is to have our curriculum certified as part of a national effort to standardize nonformal education programs.”
The curriculum incorporates basic literacy, numeracy, and mathematics instruction, while teaching about work readiness (ability to work in a variety of settings, work well with others, solve problems, and communicate); technical skills (in areas such as agriculture and construction); financial and entrepreneurial skills; and leadership and life skills. Additionally, PAS Program staff train local youth working with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the use of the curriculum, so that the community can continue the program when the initiative ends.
When youth are not in the classroom, they will be learning a technical skill or working on a project site, putting what they learn in the classroom to practical use, and sometimes earning the equivalent of $2 a day. For instance, an individual might use their math skills to calculate how much paint they will need for a community improvement job. “Youth have to go to class in order to go to work,” says Barrett. “The work experience is often focused on improving the community and addressing local needs.”
Youth then learn the skills needed to raise crops such as coffee and candlenut, which are in high demand. Explains Barrett, “Construction is one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy, but recognizing such opportunities won’t always be around, we focus on local opportunities that will always exist, like agriculture.”
“There are a lot of hidden, emerging markets in Timor-Leste, and the EDC project is teaching youth how to discover those markets,” says Mark White, USAID representative to Timor-Leste.
Youth taking part in the program were nominated by local councils known as Sukos. Once the Sukos learned the details of the project and saw its effects, they became strong supporters of it. “We were deferential to the culture, but did not allow business as usual with regard to people with connections being picked. We posted a list of qualifications that included half females, youth ages 16-30, out of work, and out of school, with no prospect of returning to school or work within the next six months,” says Barrett.
Initially, there was concern that women would not want to take part in manual labor, such as in construction. “We would have found them alternative work experiences, but only three in the first group were not interested in this type of work. Instead they found other lines of work on the construction site, like cooking and doing paperwork,” says Barrett.
Preparing Youth for Work is part of EQUIP3, which is designed to improve earning, learning, and skill development opportunities for out-of-school youth in developing countries.
Originally published on January 21, 2009