With the objective to provide young underprivileged people with professional training, French NGO Agir Pour Le Cambodge opened Sala Baï, a free hotel school based in Siem Reap, in 2002.
The association was looking for new job opportunities for young people hosted in its orphanage, before realising that tourism was the most promising sector and the city which houses Angkor Wat the best location to start a new project.
The association began broadcasting spots on the radio and started recruiting 100 students each year from impoverished families with an annual income of under US$300 and willing to let their child study.
It was also decided that Sala Baï would always give priority to girls. Today, they represent 70% of members.
“In the poorest families, they are the first to be sacrificed; being forced to drop out of school, to marry or even worse”, said Emmanuelle Dethomas, marketing and communication manager. “We are part of the levers to fight human being traffic.”
During 11 months, students share their time between theory and practice learning service, cooking, housekeeping or front office duties.
Students, who are aged from 18 to 23, must have reached the 6th to 12th grade to enter the school and the 10th to 12th grade to learn front office skills.
They have to work hard from the very beginning, helped by their teachers, all coming from the professional sector. “We have to bring them up to the required standards as, on average, they dropped out of school for four years because their parents could no longer afford it,” Dethomas said.
To strengthen their skills, students are also asked to attend two internships of two months in two different hotels during the year.
Sala Baï has established partnerships with 19 hotels in the city and the trainees can definitely count on the support of the former students who now work there.
From mid-October to mid-July, the apprentices can also regularly face reality in the hotel and restaurant schools run by the association.
The restaurant only provides breakfasts and lunches during the week whereas the hotel, which has four rooms, only closes during Khmer New Year.
“Customers are very understanding. They know that our students are learning”, said Dethomas.
Once their training is complete, students spend a month with social workers looking for a job.
About 70 percent of them immediately find a position, while the others are supported until they find one.
“The aim is to give them basic skills. After, it is up to them - and to their boss - to work their way up the ladder depending on their will and abilities.”
The project, which is funded by private individuals and enterprise and private foundations for up to $300,000, has benefited about 3,500 people so far.
– Emilie Boulenger