RMI Vocational Skills Program Benefiting Communities

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About 300 have graduated from Waan Aelon in Majel in ten years

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Pacific Daily News, Dec. 30, 2013) – In June, a group of teenagers and young adults with no school or job prospects signed up for the Waan Aelon in Majel (WAM) - translated Canoes of the Marshall Islands - a vocational and life skills training program. In mid-December, they graduated from the intensive training program, and within days the majority of participants were working for local businesses in Majuro.

The WAM program has developed a reputation for producing graduates trained not only in carpentry and other vocational skills, but equipped with life skills that make them employable. With the latest graduation, the Majuro-based program has trained nearly 300 school dropouts over the past 10 years.

"When we first came into the program, many of us had no birth certificates, Social Security numbers, identification cards and most importantly, saving accounts," said George Hilai, a WAM graduate, during the graduation ceremony attended by family, friends and instructors in mid-December. As part of the life skills portion of the program, WAM staff members assist the trainees in setting up a savings account at a local bank.

Aside from learning English and math, Hilai said they built and repaired canoes using skills acquired through the WAM vocational syllabus. The training program is built around WAM's focus of developing and expanding the use of outrigger canoes, but the training encompasses far more than building and fixing canoes.

The 20 trainees spent a week in survival mode, living on a remote outer island to develop subsistence and teamwork skills, Hilai said. They were assigned to get job experience working in government offices, at businesses and with non-government organizations. They spent time at the Taiwanese Technical Mission in the Marshall Islands town of Laura learning agricultural techniques. And the group also benefitted from counseling and life skills trainings provided by the program, Hilai said.

A significant issue in preparing young people for employment is controlling the use of alcohol, an issue WAM counselors address directly as part of the life skills training.

Alson Kelen, the program manager, said that within one week of the program's end, 12 of the 20 graduates were employed by local businesses. He said he and program staff are helping the others to either look for jobs or get enrolled for further education through the College of the Marshall Islands or other vocational training opportunities.

The training program was funded by the National Training Council, which receives a significant portion of its funding from the U.S. government. Other donors, including the Australian and Taiwan governments, also support the program.

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