CENTRAL ASIA — Samuel* was barely out of elementary school when he had to drop out to help his disabled father provide for the family. Over the years, Samuel had trouble finding work, even as a day laborer, because he had no skills.
Opportunities for work are few enough in Samuel’s home country in Central Asia. In his hometown, the per capita income is less than 55 cents a day. His country, like others in the region, sits near the bottom of the United Nations index for poverty and human development. After three decades of war in the region, rural communities like Samuel’s have few skilled workmen left. Families who need a skilled repairman must travel to cities to obtain their services.
Many young men like Samuel, who see no future or hope for themselves, fall into addiction to alcohol or other drugs. He could not imagine anyone picking him out of the crowd and giving him the precious skills training he needed to make a life for himself and his family.
But that is precisely what happened — and Samuel knows he has the love of God to thank.
Samuel was selected, with the assistance of community leaders, as one of only 40 men and women to participate in the Skills Development Program, a humanitarian outreach that pairs unskilled, unemployed people with established craftsmen who can train their apprentices in trades that will give them a path out of poverty into a hopeful future.
The program, now in its third year, is supported by the World Hunger Fund, a Southern Baptist initiative that combats hunger across North America and around the world. Because the overhead costs of hunger projects are covered by partner organizations, the World Hunger Fund is able to funnel 100% of every donation straight to the need — “a dollar in, a dollar out.”
“If you were looking for examples of “the least of these” Jesus calls us to help, you wouldn’t find any more likely candidates than these folks. They are the poorest of the poor,” said Francis Horton, who with his wife, Angie, directs work in Central Asia for Baptist Global Response. “Most of them are past school age, yet can’t read or write. Some have even fewer life opportunities than others because of disabilities. Others are widows, left to fend for themselves. Most also lack the most basic education in health and social matters.
“Their future was bleak. But Southern Baptists, through their World Hunger Fund, are pouring out the love of God into these apprentices’ lives,” Horton added. “They are learning that God created them to live abundant lives of meaning and purpose — and they see evidence of that love in the fact they are being given opportunities to make new lives for themselves and provide for their families.”
The director of the Skills Development Project, whose name is withheld for security reasons, said many young men from rural communities travel to the city in search of work, but most are unskilled and find work only as day laborers.
“This is seasonal work and it offers no security or future,” the project director said. “The fortunate ones find work every day and earn just about enough to feed their families, but their existence is literally hand to mouth, and extremely disruptive of family life, as the men leave their families back in the villages for extended periods of time. This trend also does little to develop the rural areas, and leads to increased urbanization, filling the city with migrant workers.”
The Skills Development Project, over the course of six to 10 months, trains vulnerable, uneducated and unskilled people from rural areas, so they can earn a sustainable income to provide for their families. The development of skilled workers in turn builds up those rural communities, providing a much-needed service and slowing the flow of migrant workers to the cities. Follow-up evaluations of program graduates show many of them now have successful businesses, a good income and a much improved standard of living. Several of these people also now have their own apprentices.
That was Samuel’s experience.
“Samuel was selected for the project and chose to train as a motorcycle mechanic. After graduation, he obtained a small loan to open his own motorcycle repair workshop. He began earning a sustainable income and became engaged to be married,” the project director said. “Before long, trainees for the next round of SDP were being selected, and a young man from a neighboring area of the city expressed an interest in motorcycle repair training. He was paired with Samuel, who had learned his skill particularly well and was able to do an excellent job of passing on his knowledge and skills to his trainee.
“One of the great strengths of this project is that it can be readily replicated and indefinitely sustained,” the project director added. “Poor people who are trained in a skill in turn, will train others. The long term added-value of this project to poor and more vulnerable people is very significant.”
Sometimes that ripple effect in other lives is very profound.
Another SDP trainee was Sally,* a married woman whose husband had been a drug addict for some time. Sally found herself in the position of needing to work to provide for the family. Accepted into SDP, Sally trained as a tailor and attended a literacy course so she could learn to read and write. Since finishing her training, Sally has worked from home and earns enough to provide her family’s basic needs.
“Seeing his wife taking responsibility and providing for the family, Sally’s husband decided it was shameful for him to not be working,” the project director said. “He pulled himself together, stopped using drugs, and found a job working for a relatively good income!”
When people who care pour out the love of God into the lives of people who are hopeless and helpless, the most amazing transformation often occurs, said Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response.
“The empty look of despair in a person’s eyes is replaced with a shining hope, and they are eager to share the hope they have found with members of their own family and others in the community,” Palmer said. “We are so grateful for followers of Jesus who have responded to his call to be people who care and help people in need.”
*Names changed for security reasons. For more information about the World Hunger Fund, visit www.worldhungerfund.com. You can help support projects like the Skills Development Program by donating to BGR’s fund for Job Skills Training.