Combating poverty by training in poorer villages

Ahmed Abdel-Hafez , Wednesday 23 Mar 2022

Al-Ahram weekly looks at the vocational training being provided for young people from poorer villages as part of Egypt’s Decent Life initiative.

Training centers aims at improving skills of labor in the poorest villages
Training centers aims at improving skills of labor in the poorest villages

Some 120 km south of Cairo in the Nasser village in the Beni Sweif governorate and the Ministry of Manpower’s vocational training centre, Rasha Abdel-Salam, a young woman in her 30s, is attending a sewing and garment-making workshop along with 20 other women from other villages as part of a training programme sponsored by the Directorate of Manpower under the umbrella of the national project for the development of the Egyptian countryside, or the Decent Life initiative.

Abdel-Salam, the mother of four whose oldest child is in secondary school, has spent four weeks on tailoring and sewing. She has only one week left before the end of the training.

“I was looking for a project to supplement my family’s income, and so I began a project making simple household linens. I was working from home, but by participating in this sewing workshop I have learned how to fully design ready-made garments including the most difficult step, which is making the pattern. Now I can add clothes to my products as well,” she commented.

In the second week of training, Abdel-Salam and her peers were trained in entrepreneurship and personal and social skills, which will help them market their products, study the market, and present themselves as professionals. They were also trained in resume writing.

The workshops are the product of cooperation between the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Ministry of Manpower as part of a project to develop the country’s most-needy villages or the national project for the Egyptian countryside known as the Decent Life initiative.

The programme began by providing the workshops with raw materials, modern sewing machines, interactive displays, laptops and high-speed Internet connections, according to Somaya Samir, field coordinator with the WFP.

The Decent Life initiative was launched in January 2019 to improve the standard of living and quality of life among the neediest groups in rural communities across the country by unifying the efforts made by state institutions, civil society, private-sector companies, and partners inside and outside Egypt on sustainable development.

The aim is to end multidimensional poverty in 4,658 targeted villages and communities serving more than 58 million people, with investments estimated at LE800 billion in 2021.

Multidimensional poverty is measured not only by income, but also by the extent to which people may be deprived of services such as healthcare and education and lack benefits such as an appropriate job and an unpolluted environment.

The workshops, despite their short duration, were long enough for Abdel-Salam to form a complete conception of her new project, which she will launch after the last week of training.

“I have rented a place as a sewing workshop and have started to prepare it,” she said. “I have also rented a shop to display my new products. I will make women’s clothes as well as linens. Thanks to the training, I made my first five skirts from start to finish. I also created a group on WhatsApp and Facebook. With God’s help, I have been able to sell them all. I will now teach two of my neighbours what I have learnt about sewing and tailoring, so I can start my project soon.”

The concept of multidimensional poverty goes beyond a lack of money for the individual or family concerned, since families whose income is above the poverty line are still considered poor if they lack clean water and sanitation. Only 20 per cent of the countryside in Egypt has access to water and sanitation networks.

People can also be considered poor if they lack education and healthcare services. If people have high incomes, but live in areas without good roads and transportation, they can also be considered poor in terms of multidimensional poverty.

 The existence or otherwise of Internet connections and landline networks is another factor.

Mohamed Anwar, director of the Manpower Department in the Beni Sweif governorate, said the ministry’s policy is to provide vocational and professional training for everyone who applies for it between the ages of 18 and 35.

The governorate hosts several large industrial areas close to the Red Sea ports and is connected to the Mediterranean ports and the capital by road, making it home to industrial complexes run by international companies.

Khairiya Shaaban, director of labour research and training at the governorate, said that it has a long waiting list to train technicians in refrigeration, air-conditioning, and mobile-phone repair. There is great demand for such workers in the governorate, she said.

Shaaban explained that the governorate plans to train between 125 and 250 people throughout the year, with the targeted professions determined by reports on the labour market and applications by trainees. The data is gathered, the required professions are tallied, and workshops determined to meet the demands of the applicants and the market.

Allocations for social security programmes have also been gradually increasing since 2016, with major leaps in recent years to counter the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change.

In its draft budget for 2021-22, the government allocated subsidies worth LE283.4 billion for social security, compared to allocations of LE200 billion in 2019-20, a 41.5 per cent increase.

The money funds programmes such as the conditional and unconditional cash-transfer programme, the relief programme for individual and national catastrophes and disasters, and the social security and pensions programme.

It might be thought that those attending vocational training workshops have intermediate or lower education or have not completed their education. However, Mahmoud Mohamed, a graduate of Beni Sweif University in commerce, was attending the workshop on refrigeration and air-conditioning with a view to gaining certification.

“I want to open a maintenance centre in my village for all types of air-conditioning and refrigeration repair,” he said. “The Nasser village has many customers waiting for these services, including hospitals, pharmacies, pharmaceutical warehouses that store medicine and serums, banks, and frozen and refrigerated meat sellers and distributors. Also, there are people with home air-conditioners.

 “Launching my own business to serve the community is better than looking for a job in the public or private sectors,” Mohamed said.

Ahmed Kamel Adli, coordinator of the Decent Life initiative in the Nasser village, said that government agencies were intensifying efforts to target the most-needy villages.

“The Decent Life initiative includes more than 400 projects, all working in tandem,” he said. “Villages are prioritised based on low income and high population density and then higher income and lower density. The population of the Nasser village is 400,000 people.”

 “The initiative has accomplished a breakthrough in the services provided to the most-needy villages, with mobile training workshops travelling to target them. Young men and women receive training in plumbing, electricity, and sewing skills. In my 14 years of experience in community work, I believe mobile training centres are the most successful way of delivering training, and there is huge demand for them along with long waiting lists.

“We hope we can provide training for everyone who is interested, because the centres only have limited capabilities with a capacity of 10 trainees each and training lasting for four to five weeks,” he said.

Anwar said that the ministry’s training programmes in Beni Sweif have succeeded with flying colours, adding that there has been coordination between the workshops for sewing and clothes design with garment factories in the governorate. 28 young women signed work contracts at two factories after the training programmes.

Although mobile-phone repair is not in high demand among companies, it is popular among young people in Beni Sweif as a choice of job. Mohamed Mustafa, an engineer leading a workshop on mobile-phone maintenance, said this was because smart and regular phones are as widespread in villages as they are in cities and because of the expansion of government, banks, and mobile companies in financial services.

 “Tablets, iPads, and mobile phones are found in every Egyptian home, and anyone in this profession must learn the newest trends in technology. This creates high demand in any workshop in this field, whether for beginners or professionals wishing to improve their skills to work on the latest models. It is a service that is sorely lacking in the countryside,” Mustafa said.

Despite the flexibility and solidarity between state agencies and UN programmes in implementing the objectives of the Decent Life initiative, more still needs to be done, however.

Doaa Arafa, head of the WFP’s Social Protection Programme, said during a press tour of villages in Beni Sweif that a major challenge facing development projects was population density, adding to the challenges of providing appropriate vocational training for those wishing to benefit from it.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 March, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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