BAYOU LA BATRE, Alabama — For years, Chansaveuy Manivong picked crabs in the frigid seafood processing houses around this fishing town, a job that demanded 14-hour days starting before sunrise alongside other Laotian and Thai immigrants.
That work came to a sudden halt last year when oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico and washed ashore in Alabama. Shipments of fresh crabs and shrimp stopped arriving, and processing houses were shuttered.
Manivong, 56, considered her future. She knew she wouldn’t miss the tedious task of picking crabs. With the help of the Bayou La Batre Business Support Center, which opened in response to the spill, she studied to become a nurse’s assistant.
“Some I pass, some I don’t, but I study very hard,” said Manivong, who has made it through the skills exam but still must overcome her limited English skills to pass the final writing test. “I want to do everything better for my life.”
The oil spill left about 3,000 workers in the south Mobile County area unemployed or without enough work, a majority of whom relied on the seafood industry, according to the Business Support Center.
Funded by a portion of a $1.7 million U.S. Department of Labor emergency grant for programs in Mobile and Baldwin counties, the center offers career counseling and pays for tuition in welding, nurse’s assistant, maritime labor and truck driving courses.
Over the past year, about 600 people have turned to the center in search of work or help surviving. In the beginning, many needed food and to pay their electric bills. Now, the focus is on enduring kind of support.