Seventeen-year-old Fareed (not his real name) came to Thailand in 2015 with his mother and three sisters. Back home in Pakistan as a kid, he worked countless hours in a carpet factory, while suffering verbal and physical abuse.

When they arrived in Thailand as asylum seekers, they were told to leave immediately, or face arrest. “We were totally blind about the situation,” said Fareed as he reflected about refugees’ lack of knowledge on the migration laws.

As they could not afford black-market visas, they stayed out of sight. Securing a job was difficult because they did not know anybody in Bangkok. “It was really not easy for all of us when money was running low.” The opportunities and hopes for a future were bleak as they belong to a minority race.

This led Fareed to take on odd jobs like construction work. Then came Christmas 2015 when he was arrested as an illegal migrant. He could not pay the bribes demanded so Fareed called his employer, who paid the bribe for him as a wage advance. Slowly he paid off the debts. He laid low for almost two years and fell ill in the process.

His family was in despair. “It felt like a big mistake to come here. If we stayed, we would have died once. But here it felt like we had to die again and again.”

Thankfully, Fareed was introduced to the Urban Education Programme by JRS Thailand, which offers refugees and youth asylum seekers courses in basic English and Thai. They also give skills training, ranging from basic computer skills to hairdressing. These courses are aimed at helping the youths to bridge language barriers and provide a life skill for future employment.

Fareed chose to enrol in the beauty salon course which included nail painting and facial massage. Gradually, by 2018, Fareed started to give back to JRS by managing registration and community activities for the refugees. What he hopes is if his generation cannot have a good life, at least the next generation can.

At the beauty salon is Teacher Lek, a native Thai educator who has dedicated 24 years to training vulnerable communities. She became the lead teacher in the salon two years ago. “My hope is that my students can go out to find jobs themselves and be self-independent.” Teacher Lek also spoke of how proud she is of her students who update her on their journeys long after they graduated.

Back home, CHARIS and JRS Singapore have jointly contributed almost $120,000 since December 2017, helping more than five batches of students to successfully complete their course. JRS Singapore also established a Refugee Intern programme which links refugees with valuable internship experiences in digital marketing, translation, and other fields after their courses.

CHARIS is organising their annual fundraising on Sept 28 and 29. To donate, pick up a brochure at your parish or visit

JRS Singapore will also be commemorating World Day of Migrant & Refugees on Sept 29. For more information, visit

Teacher Lek shows students in the hair salon course how to braid hair.