When the factory she was working for suddenly started giving line workers more days off, Duang became apprehensive. She had come to Bangkok when she was just 17, dropping out of school in Chaiyaphum province. She had worked in jewelry manufacture ever since, setting diamonds into gold necklaces, rings, and bracelets for over 20 years. The factory was all she knew and the idea of seeking employment elsewhere felt daunting. While difficult, the task was not insurmountable, and so she acted quickly.

Whenever she was not given a shift, Duang began learning Thai massage. It took her a year to become qualified, but it provided her with peace of mind and additional income. When the factory finally did start letting their staff go, Duang was ready for it. She had something to fall back on. While working in massage in the six years that followed, Duang realized that if she could speak English, she would be able to provide her mostly foreign customers with advice, develop friendships for repeat business, and get better tips. So she decided to enroll in the ‘Better Me’ program at Pratthanadee Foundation on the recommendation of a friend.

Many people like Duang did not have time to prepare – economically and emotionally – for many months of hardship brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. While the spread of the virus has remained relatively contained in Thailand, many have been affected by the economic costs of the collapse of tourism. Women have been hit harder compared with men as they tend to make less money. Women are also more often in vulnerable types of employment with less protection, such as workers in the informal sector that is not regulated by the state, the self-employed, domestic workers, or daily wage workers. During the first lockdown period in March 2020, the massage parlor Duang worked at closed and she had to survive off her savings. She was always worried that the money would run out. While others could take their businesses online or continue working from home, Duang could do nothing except wait for the lockdown to lift.

The experience left her feeling unprotected. But just as she had done at the jewelry factory, Duang knew how to respond. She went to her district office and enrolled in a vocational training course in manicure. She also started saving up money to take another course on baking. Continuing to learn English will also provide her with a greater variety of career options in the future. With guidance and mentorship from Pratthanadee’s ‘Better Me’ program, Duang is determined to ensure she has a number of options to help safeguard her from any future instability. The program is also providing her with support on planning her finances and mapping out and achieving her ambitions.

“You can sell cakes on the internet, but you cannot sell massage!” she says. “Now is a good time for me to re-evaluate my life, learn something else on the side, and see if I can apply new skills in the future. It’s important to always be thinking ahead.”

Story and Pictures By Mailee Osten-Tan.

Edited: Pratthanadee Team