Jobs and the ability to draw an income weigh heavily on the minds of many and it is no different for the young people we engage. After speaking to more than 50 youth between 16 to 25 years old, we discovered that most wanted to explore different career paths which they were interested in. However, they felt that they could not afford to do so as contributing to the household budget was priority. They were also rather clueless how they could explore their interests and would tend to gratefully take on whatever comes their way.
Their sense of practicality is understandable but what we found disturbing was how many seemed settled with their situation because they believe that it is what they deserve. Many shared that whenever there was a conflict or an unpleasant encounter at home, they felt responsible. They believed that their family was in conflict because they were “bad” children. It was also kind of similar at school as they got the impression they were failing because they were “bad students” who were not trying hard enough.
As we listened more, we discovered that they generally found it difficult to appreciate the effort they were putting in to make their lives work. Responsibilities at home and diligence at workplace were minimized and there was a deep sense of embarrassment about many aspects of their own lives. They highlighted their lack of education and work experiences and blamed themselves for the unsatisfying work experiences they have had. Though not articulated, we sensed pessimism that we believed needed to be contained if not eliminated.
Hence, we reframed the narratives we heard and created 4 “Personas of Hope” that we thought our youth could identify with. Each of these personas have their challenges but importantly their values and experiences are recognized as strengths they can draw upon in their search for a satisfying career.
“Adventurous Aisyah” left school early to help out with family responsibilities but is fearless in taking on different work opportunities that come her way. “Independent Indra” works part-time to fund his studies and while he finds it strenuous at times to juggle work and school, he takes much pride showing his parents that they have raised him to be strong.
There is also “Traditional Tina” who values her culture and religion and has pledged to do her bit in encouraging mutual respect and diversity wherever she works. For a start she will not entertain the thought that she is being discriminated for the head-dress she proudly dons as an article of faith. Finally, we introduced Steady Sam, who will draw on the discipline, self-control, and problem-solving skills he had acquired during National Service for the mission of his job search.
Together with Aisyah, Indra, Tina and Sam, we hope that we will keep our conversation alive with youth wanting work.
Wishing you health and peace of mind.
We are not tested to show our weakness but to discover our strengths.