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INDIA: 2,500 Sri Lankan Refugees Access New Beginnings Training Program

(MissionNewswire) For the fifth year, Salesian Missions has received funding from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration to conduct its New Beginnings program assisting Sri Lankan Refugees in Tamil Nadu, India. To date, close to 2,500 refugees have received vocational training scholarships through the program.

Since 1983, ethnic violence in Sri Lanka has forced tens of thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils from their homeland in search of safety and a new life in Tamil Nadu, India. According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, there are close to 140,000 Sri Lankan refugees in 65 countries, with almost 70,000 in refugee camps in Tamil Nadu.

Refugees face many challenges as they begin to make a new life in their host countries. Sri Lankan Tamils are unique in that their host population in Tamil Nadu is also ethnically Tamil. While Sri Lankan refugees share a common language and customs with their host community, they still struggle to gain marketable skills and find livable wage employment.

Since 2010, Salesian Missions has been providing its New Beginnings program for young male and female Sri Lankan refugees who have been living in refugee camps in 15 target districts in India. This year, Salesians are serving 550 individuals by providing vocational training through a network of nine Salesian-run Don Bosco schools spread across Southeast India. In addition, 550 women are benefiting from refugee camp-based small business incubator programs.

The New Beginnings program provides market-conscious vocational and technical skills training that results in livable wage employment, allowing trainees to better support themselves and their families. Many refugees enter the program with few, if any, job prospects or with a history of low paid part-time work experience which is typically unskilled and often dangerous and exploitative.

The training provides New Beginnings’ graduates with at least one market-demand technical skill as well as workplace readiness training to enhance positive attitudes, hygiene, personal presentation and teamwork. Results-oriented job placement assistance helps graduates transition from the classroom to employment in the local labor market. In addition, all trainees receive counseling to help them overcome traumas related to their displacement and hardship as well as recreation opportunities that promote non-violent conflict resolution and a healthy inclusive community.

“Young men, who once worked as painters or unskilled construction hands for just a dollar each day, have gone on to technical positions in established local and regional businesses,” says Neill Holland, program officer at the Salesian Missions Office for International Programs. “Some have leveraged their training to travel beyond local areas toward the Indian state’s technology companies and auto manufacturers in the Chennai industrial hub.”

Serving no less than 40 percent women and young girls, the New Beginnings program promotes gender equality and generates opportunities for women whether they prefer to seek work at a local company or join a women’s company collective that allows them to remain home with young children while still engaging in meaningful employment.

Often women with young children are unable to leave the camps to attend school. In response, Salesian Missions created a program to bring training inside the refugee camps. Women can receive training in skills such as jewelry-making and sewing and are also provided entrepreneurial workshops. The program also helps women create a business cooperative while a micro-credit program helps them buy new equipment such as sewing machines. As a group, the women are able to provide their services and merchandise to local businesses, taking advantage of their new skills while continuing to care for their families.

“For female participants, the New Beginnings program has given young women pursuing financial independence, as well as stay-at-home mothers and willing seniors, a chance to access Tamil Nadu’s burgeoning clothing manufacturing market,” adds Holland. “Numerous female graduates have gone on to assist employers with tailoring work while others have utilized new computer skills to support the local business sector.”

The New Beginnings program has been so effective in part due to the mutual trust that exists between the Salesians and the communities they serve. After having made multiple connections with employers to understand the most valuable and in-demand marketable skills, Salesians in Tamil Nadu are very knowledgeable about local needs and create training programs that are structured to best meet these needs.

Also effective is the New Beginnings program’s integration of counselors, trainers and job placement specialists under one roof as well as its robust engagement with the Indian Government, US Department of State advisors and peer agencies that make up the larger community of practice for regional refugee assistance.

Through the New Beginnings program, Salesian Missions was able to partner with Fordham University’s International Political Economy and Development program for the assessment of training activities and program impact. This partnership created a platform for information sharing between Fordham researchers and Salesian administrators, leading to improved self-assessment and program planning.

Salesian missionaries are also providing the New Beginnings program for refugees in Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp and refugees living in Colombia.


PHOTO: Neill Holland with New Beginnings program beneficiaries in Tamil Nadu, India.


UNHCR – Sri Lanka

Salesian Missions Office for International Programs

U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration

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