The life stories of underprivileged young people often went unnoticed until online video clips came along to give new meaning to placing their plight in the spotlight and show how youngsters can blossom with institutional aid.
Daojai Saetor, 20, daughter of a cabbage farming family from Phetchabun, is trained to whisk eggs in the main kitchen of the JW Marriott Hotel in Bangkok. Photos by JINGJAI M.
Two young girls from rural districts in Phetchabun and Nong Khai provinces may have heard about YouTube and what it could do to change a person's life.
But it never crossed their minds that they would one day be featured on it.
A Chance for Change is a five-part reality series currently available on YouTube. It captures the experiences of two young women who entered a Unicef-inspired programme aimed at providing underprivileged young people with opportunities to improve their lives through hospitality training.
One is Daojai Saetor, 20, a poor Mon girl from Tab Berk village in Phetchabun who wants to continue her education. The other is Urairat Srisara, 18, of the northeastern province of Nong Khai.
The young women are among many underprivileged young people selected for the Youth Career Development Programme (YCDP) initiated by Unicef.
Cameras follow them on their quest for a better future. The series shows the many challenges and struggles they faced from the time they were accepted into the programme, put in an apprentice training course at leading hotels in Bangkok, right up to the point of their completion of the programme.
Looking the part: Ms Daojai in a hotel trainee uniform.
The series contains five episodes titled New Life, Hotel Training, Home Visit, Life in Bangkok and Graduation.
At a university dormitory in Bangkok, 21 young people from disadvantaged communities line up to pull the name of a top hotel out of a bag. Behind them, teams of hotel staff in uniforms wait to meet their new apprentices.
For Ms Daojai, a cabbage farmer from a hill tribe village in Phetchabun, it's an exciting moment. She reaches in and pulls out a piece of paper saying JW Marriot - and her new life begins.
Although quiet and shy, Ms Daojai is talkative once she gets going. She dresses simply and has a simple haircut, unlike the more fashion-conscious girls from urban areas. She arrived in Bangkok for the training in the third week of April last year.
"This is only my second time to Bangkok," she said.
"I arrived by bus with my friend. I'm very excited to be here. I wanted to go to university but my parents couldn't afford to send me. I'll need to pay my own way. Working in a hotel will help me do that."
Andrew Morris, the Unicef Thailand deputy representative, said this is an excellent example of how private companies and an organisation like Unicef can work together to change the lives of children and young people.
"Not only has it changed the lives of the young people who went through YCDP, but also the lives of their brothers, sisters and families because of the money they have sent back home for their education," he said.
"I was in a hotel recently making a booking for a friend of mine. When they realised I was from Unicef, they said 'we have some of your YCDP graduates in our senior staff at the hotel'. So we know that they've done very well."
At the JW Marriot Hotel in central Bangkok, Ms Daojai was hard at work at the hotel kitchen.
Wearing a starched white kitchen uniform and preparing food for dinner, she worked alongside an experienced chef. She chopped vegetables, mixed sauces and put trays of food in an industrial sized microwave. Afterwards, she cleaned the surfaces and kitchen utensils.
"Daojai is a quiet girl but she's motivated and works hard," said Tanai Jitmanowan, main kitchen chef at the JW Marriott Hotel. "I've seen her progress over the last month. She's more fluid in preparing the food.
"If she wanted to, she could be a chef herself in five years' time."
Ms Daojai in school uniform.
Rojana Pongpairoj, Front Office Manager of the JW Marriott Hotel, agrees that Ms Daojai is a promising student.
"We've had lots of weddings at the hotel lately so there have been many opportunities for Daojai to learn how to arrange flowers," Ms Rojana said.
After work, Ms Daojai returns to the small dormitory she shares with two other girls from her village.
The girls don't have many possessions - a few clothes and a book of short stories. But the rooms are bright and clean, and a cool breeze blows in from the lush, green gardens outside.
"The first week, I thought I'd made the wrong decision coming here," Ms Daojai said, looking back on her first month in the programme.
"The trainers made me work very hard. Once I had to unblock a toilet by putting my hand down it. But after that I thought 'I have to fight for this' and it's got better since."
Ms Daojai works a six-day week at the hotel.
In their free time, she and her friends go shopping, have meals and enjoy long chats together.
"My daily allowance is 120 baht but I try to spend just 50 to 100 baht," she said.
When she gets lonely, she calls her mother on her mobile phone. "I don't want to cry so I keep my problems to myself," she said.
"My mother tells me to take care of myself and always take an umbrella when I go out. She said if I can't cope I can come home. But I want to stay and complete the course."
Half way through the course, Ms Daojai went home for a weekend to visit her family in Tab Berk. The village sits upon a ridge at the top of a mountain range.
The main industry in the area is cabbage farming. Ms Daojai's wooden house is set upon a bed of packed earth. There is one large room with a bed in the corner and a kitchen out the back. The family's few belongings hang from nails that have been pounded into the walls.
The only obvious sign of modernity is a large TV attached to a satellite dish outside.
Life is hard in the mountains, but Ms Daojai enjoys being with her family.
When she is at home, she spends most of the day attending to household chores and working in the fields.
"I miss my mum most of all. Here, I see her face every morning when I wake up," she said.
The next morning, Ms Daojai said goodbye to her parents and grandparents. On the way back, she stopped at the local temple to make an offering.
"I asked the spirits to keep me safe in Bangkok and help me complete my studies," she said.
A Chance for Change can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/unicefthailand
With her grandparents at home in Phetchabun before leaving for hotel training in Bangkok.
Scrubbing and cleaning requires a lot of ‘elbow grease’.
Every aspect of hotel work is taught to the young trainee.
From hi-tech kitchen to simple home kitchen, Ms Daojai helps her mother.
Ms Daojai works in the cabbage field in Tab Berk village in Phetchabun.
About the author
Writer: Andy Brown