Helping Hands is a local social enterprise project which aims to help Yangon’s street kids and the unemployed by giving them skills and employment in restoring furniture.
The project started in 2009 with just a few people and now it has grown to involve fifty workers, each with their own different background and story.
“I was encouraged to come here by my elder brother when I was 13 years old,” said Myat Kyaw, a nineteen year old who works at Helping Hands.
He added that, “I was just a kid at that time and I came here because it was fun. Sometimes I played with other kids from [Helping Hands] and sometimes we worked together.
I usually came here only at the weekends and summer holidays.”
Sometimes, there are English language classes by foreign volunteers.
“It’s so much fun and I get money even though I don’t need to work much. Sometimes, me and my friends from work go to the zoo or cinema too,” he said.
Myat Kyaw originally quit school because his parents couldn’t afford to send him due to problems with their family business. Then he found focus with the Helping Hands project.
“We have different teams such as polish and painting teams and carpenters.
I started out polishing the furniture,” he said.
Later he was promoted to the painting team but it wasn’t easy – it was difficult to stand the smell so he moved back to the polishing team.
Myat Kyaw has big plans for his future. He is hoping to become a good mechanic at a car workshop because he is interested in learning everything about cars and eventually wants to drive his own car.
“My brother was working like me at Helping Hands when he got a good connection and now he’s working in a good job at a German car workshop here in Yangon. So I am also hoping to reach a next new level for my life through this work,” Myat Kyaw said.
“This project is really good and it guides me to have a future dream. It gives me work experience, friends and English skills.”
U Ba Thaw, the Project Manager at Helping Hands agrees with Myat Kyaw. He has also been working there for about ten years.
“Actually, I was a driver before and then became interested in this project. My boss likes me to work for Helping Hands because I can manage sales very well,” he said.
His duty focuses on furniture sales and he is happy in his work and gets satisfaction from his job.
“There are no major difficulties or problems working with street kids. We just need to have patience and be polite with them. That’s all,” he added.
Every Saturday, Helping Hands has an open day at their workshop on Ngar Htat Gyi Pagoda Road when they sell their products to customers. Both local and foreigners are interested in their pieces of furniture.
“We need to make money every week because we have to pay workers fees every week. We also serve them daily food, so we need money for that too,” he said.
The project gets old and unused furniture from all over Myanmar through their supplier. The team then works on the furniture to recondition it and restore its original beauty. Furniture available includes chairs, desks, tables, traditional Myanmar chests, cabinets and other furniture for the living room and everywhere in the house.
To buy a piece of furniture, you need to go to the showroom and discuss with the sales team. After negotiating the price they will write your name on the items that you bought. Customers need to pay an advance payment and helping Hands will deliver the furniture within three or four weeks.
Helping Hands is located in the compound of the home of the project founder who is no longer involved in the project although she still allows them to operate from her garden. It is located on Ngar Htet Gyi Pagoda Road in Bahan Township.