From Neighborhood Kids to Cinnamon Grand Employees

A chat with John Keells Foundation’s Vocational Trainees

In commemoration of World Youth Day 2015 (12th August), we (JKF staff) sat down to talk with three promising youth from our Vocational Training Programme. World Youth Day is celebrated to recognize the valuable contribution of our Youth towards our society and encouraging them to be actively involved in their positive development.

Imas, Usama and Norman were three students fortunate enough to be selected for the Vocational Training programme. The vocational training programme organized under the aegis of John Keells Foundation is an opportunity available for those students who do not pass their O/ Levels enabling them to gain valuable training in one of the following sectors- Hospitality, Logistics, Property and Retail.

Since all three boys were underage and could not be employed after the Vocational training programme, they were offered fully funded placements at The Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management (SLITHM) to further enhance their knowledge. Though all three boys were extremely excited to start this course, Norman was unable to enroll due to family issues.  

Three months after their course at SLITHM, all three boys were recruited into the Cinnamon Grand Cadre and are currently in their 6 month probation period. Usama and Norman are currently working at the Tao Kitchen while Imas is working in the Banquet Kitchen. Speaking to them about their current employment, all three boys exclaims they are grateful for the opportunity and hope to become permanent employees. The boys are humble and gracious as they talk about their life before and how they would’ve been working in a small neighborhood shop or aimlessly wandering the streets.  They speak about their time in school and how their lives have completely changed compared to their friends. Norman says “In school, I used to follow my friends but after I joined Cinnamon Grand, My friends look up to me as a Leader and ask for my advice. I know I am an inspiration to them and I feel very privileged.” This sense of pride is apparent in all the boys as Usama explains “No one in my family took me seriously but now that I have this job, I can tell how proud my family is.”

Imas making sushi                             

They are very friendly and talkative as they joked about how their sense of discipline and care for their appearance had changed since joining Cinnamon Grand. Imas says ‘ At school, we were always being told off for wearing dirty clothes, not combing our hair or the crazy hairstyles we had but I did not realize how important it really was. I didn’t even own a pair of jeans until I bought one for my Interview at Cinnamon Grand.” It is clear from their tone of voice that they are enjoying their work and their colleagues. Usama says “My favorite part about working at Cinnamon Grand is the people. They are very knowledgeable and friendly, and they respect me. Even though I am much younger and lower in rank, there is no hierarchical structure here.”

Usama’s pan seared chicken

Becoming a chef has been a dream for all three boys as they speak enthusiastically about the new knowledge and skills they have learnt. Usama says “My most memorable dish was making stuffed herbed chicken. My father is also a chef and he is my inspiration so I was really happy when I was finally able to prove to myself that I could be a chef.” Imas also talks fondly about learning to cook Japanese food “I remember being told that making Japanese food is very difficult because you have to be very delicate, but I picked it up really quickly. This made me really proud because none of the other trainees were able to learn as fast as me.”  While Norman says “My favorite cuisine is South Indian, the flavors are very similar to Sri Lankan Food and I love cooking it.”

Norman making milk peda (an Indian starter)       

As our interview winds to an end, all three boys express their gratitude towards John Keells for the opportunity they’ve been given as well as the continuous support from them and specifically, the Cinnamon Grand Team. Usama is also grateful to have been a part of the English Scholarship Programme organized by John Keells Foundation and claims that without the programme, he would not be confident to speak in English.

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