A graduation later this month will recognize a group of young people who had few opportunities in their lives earlier this year but now have multiple doors open for their future. Last month, Waan Aelon in Majel (WAM) graduated a group of over 20 Marshallese following a six-month training on woodworking. On September 28, another trainee group of about 20 will graduate following a six-month vocational and life skills training program funded mainly by the RMI’s National Training Council. “The group graduating later this month is a mix of dropouts from early elementary and late high school,” said WAM (Canoes of the Marshall Islands) Director Alson Kelen. After two decades of experience training school dropouts in skills development programs, WAM’s six-month programs mix academic classes with life skills and vocational training to engage youth who have been “out of the system” for years. Kelen and the WAM team also promote young women’s involvement, although there is a prevailing attitude that vocational training and canoe building is a male provenance. “The idea of these trainings is to provide skills to young people so they won’t leave (Marshall Islands),” said Kelen. “We focus on girls because they have minimal opportunities compared to boys.” Skills alone don’t do the job, said Kelen. “That’s why we have life skills teachers and academic classes in math and English,” he said. This mix of education activities is essential “for kids who fell through the cracks in the system and dropped out of school,” he said. “We’re trying to build new bridges for the trainees.” In the ongoing training that wraps up at the end of this month, one of the projects the trainees are working on is building large-size outrigger canoe models that are three-to-four feet in length. “This allows them to use more carpentry tools, which gives them more experience heading into the labor force (after graduating),” Kelen said. In the life skills area, the program set up bank accounts for all trainees, got them Social Security numbers and identification cards, and has involved them in Wellness Center activities to give them diet and exercise ideas. Bank of Guam Manager Jackie Salomon spoke with the trainees about managing and saving money. Leeno Aikuj, Director of the Ministry of R&D’s Small Business Development Program, and Arlington Tibon from Bank of Marshall Islands spoke to the group about how they can start their own business and how to use micro loans offered by BOMI. “The trainees are not just learning a skill, they are learning how to use it on the business side,” said Kelen.
Read more about this in the September 15, 2017 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.