A Coffee Shop of Her Own

By the time Sunday comes around, Nattapon is exhausted.

Sunday is the last day of the week, and most weeks for Nattapon, or Guitar, as her nickname goes, are filled – with work, school, and taking care of her three-year-old son Nava. (Sometimes she even finds time to sleep, too.)

“I work and I’m a mother at the same time. I do everything,” says Guitar, who is herself only 19 years of age.

Single motherGuitar almost doesn’t mention the third piece – she’s studying English in the Faculty of Humanities at nearby Ramkhamhaeng University.

“I didn’t have the opportunity to go to a good high school,” says Guitar, “so I want to improve my capabilities, particularly in communication skills. In the future I want to open my own business.”

So by the time Sunday rolls around, she might be content to relax and enjoy some time at home with Nava, her mother, and grandmother in their home in Bangkok. But Guitar has chosen to spend her Sundays here, in a conference room learning new skills.

Guitar is one of 37 participants in the first training batch of Kenan Foundation Asia’s Youth to Work program, which aims to help young single mothers gain stable employment by building workplace skills – including workshops on resume-writing, professional communication, financial education, creative problem solving, anti-sexual harassment awareness, and other skills essential for navigating the modern labor market. The program is part of Futuremakers by Standard Chartered, a global initiative to tackle inequality and promote greater economic inclusion for young people around the world. Futuremakers aims to empower disadvantaged young people, living in communities where Standard Chartered Bank operates, to learn, earn and grow.

As part of celebrations for its 125th anniversary in Thailand, Standard Chartered Bank partnered with Kenan Foundation Asia to improve employability skills for 125 young mothers through the Youth to Work program.

“I want to change people’s minds about single moms,” says Guitar. “We are more capable than people think.”

Guitar says the most valuable lesson she’s learned over the four Sundays she’s spent at the workshop this month was about communication skills – especially public speaking. For one of the exercises, she wrote a short story about herself and performed it in front of a peer.

“I can sometimes struggle to communicate my emotions to older people. Sometimes I don’t understand them,” she said.

In the past, she found it difficult to communicate with coworkers or other people who are older and have had different life experiences and expectations. But since joining the program, she says she learned “how to accustom myself to other people.”

Days two and three focused on collaboration, critical thinking, and creative problem-solving. Participants worked together in small teams to design marshmallow towers and solve logic puzzles.

In addition, the four-day training included workshops taught by employee volunteers from Standard Chartered and professional recruiters. The volunteers offered their expertise on personal financial management, sharing tips on saving and budgeting; they also conducted simulated job interviews to help sharpen participants’ interpersonal presentation skills.

One creative way that Guitar communicates is through her latte art. During the week, she works as a barista at a coffee shop in a shopping mall. It’s difficult work and requires early morning hours, but Guitar takes pride in her latte art compositions. (Flowers and hearts are her favorite to draw.)

Coffee has been a part of Guitar’s life since she was young. Her mother, who raised her without help from her father, also worked in a coffee shop and growing up Guitar spent a lot of time there.

The barista job doesn’t pay enough to support a family, however. After she graduates, Guitar hopes to get a more secure job – one where “I can take care of my son and my family and have more time to spend with him.”

Her dream is to open her own coffee shop. She already has the name picked out, too: “Ganesh Coffee,” in honor of the elephant-headed deity Ganesha.

On the third day of training, participants had professional photos taken. Then they were asked to draw a life-size picture envisioning their future self. Guitar’s picture shows a smiling woman, and next to her a steaming hot coffee cup (replete with a latte art finish).

“I drew myself running the coffee shop business,” Guitar explained.

Like the rest of the Youth to Work participants, Guitar feels encouraged about the new skills she’s gained through the workshop. But perhaps equally important for her is a new way of seeing herself.

“I want to show people that I can do it,” she said.

Kenan Asia

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