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Myanmar: UNHCR training propels young mechanic with drive to succeed

Telling the Human Story, 26 April 2012

© UNHCR/K.McKinsey
On the street outside his motorcycle repair shop, Nyi Nyi Naing, 18, repairs a customer's battered machine.

MAUNGDAW, Myanmar, April 26 (UNHCR) As a young boy, Nyi Nyi Naing dreamed of becoming a mechanic. When his parents died three years ago, the then 15-year-old knew he had to make his dream come true.

Today, thanks to training provided by the UN refugee agency, the determined young man runs his own motorcycle repair shop in this small but fast-growing town in western Myanmar. He's believed to be the youngest entrepreneur in town.

"When I was young, I was always interested in mechanics," says Nyi Nyi Naing, who completed only eight years of formal education. "Before, I could only do small repairs, like change spark plugs."

His life changed when he heard about courses for mechanics offered by Bridge Asia Japan (BAJ) and funded by UNHCR. These teach men and women how to repair motorbikes and cars. With this area of Rakhine state developing quickly and vehicle ownership increasing, demand for repair services is taking off.

BAJ instructor Than Htaik Win, a mechanic for most of his life, was impressed by the fact that Nyi Nyi Naing entered the course intent on opening his own shop. To date, out of 70 men and women mechanics trained by BAJ, ten have started their own shops and some 35 others have found work in garages, but Nyi Nyi Naing is by far the youngest shop owner.

In a BAJ classroom in another part of northern Rakhine, the front row is occupied by four women, who say they wanted to do something more exciting than the traditional sewing classes they are often offered. One admits they had to first learn to drive a motorbike before they could tackle repairing them

"These vocational courses are valuable for many reasons beyond the obvious purpose of giving people skills to make a living," says Hans ten Feld, UNHCR's representative in Myanmar.

"Many of the courses give women a way to break out of cultural restrictions, and they also bring together people from various ethnic, religious and other backgrounds," he adds. "They give the Muslims of this area, who often are discriminated against, a chance to study and work with Rakhine youth like Nyi Nyi Naing, and thus promote harmony among the various population groups."

Over 45 days of training, six hours per day, Nyi Nyi Naing learned everything about how a motorcycle works. He confesses learning the wiring system was the toughest.

"I learned a lot," he says, taking a break from repairing a battered motorbike on the sidewalk in front of his shop. "Before, I didn't know how the engine worked or how the spark plugs worked, but we covered everything."

Upon graduation, his friends chipped in to give him start-up capital and help him rent the shop. Now he nets enough to repay them and pay the rent, with a profit of 50,000 kyat (US$60) a month good money in these parts.

He supports his grandmother and a 10-year-old nephew, and helps out two married sisters as well. His twin brother works for him, watching the shop while he continues his vocational training every afternoon.

He's now back at BAJ, learning how to drive a truck and a car. That's because, even though he's been unable to save any of his monthly take home pay of 10,000 kyats, he has a clear ambition: "One day I will have my own car."

By Kitty McKinsey in Maungdaw, Myanmar

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