A Giant Ladder for the Rural Poor

A Giant Ladder for the Rural Poor

Publication info

Sophorn Chov, CARE Cambodia – Koh Kong Sub-Office

Most young people in Andoung Tek commune in the southwestern province of Cambodia are eager to migrate to other provinces or over the border to Thailand, as they expect to have higher income there than by doing local work in their village. But Miss Channary smiled and said, “I don’t need to migrate outside to earn money because money is around me. I just need a chance and time to catch it.”

Channary is a 19-year-old girl who lives in Ta Meak village of Andoung Tek commune, about 35 km from Botum Sakor district town. Channary, her two siblings and their parents live in a small home surrounded by rice fields and beyond, the coast.  Their house is made from wooden walls and a zinc roof.  Her family depends mainly on income from seasonal fishing, which is not a year-round job. The fishing is not good during the rainy season due to the heavy rain and storms. This causes her family to have food shortages for a few months a year. Also, as her mother has chronic illness, the medical assistance she requires places additional emotional and financial strains on the family.

Channary’s life was spent on household chores, taking care of her siblings and mother, shelling crabs and shrimp and sometimes going to the sea with her brother and father.  For these reasons, Channary and her brother dropped out of school in grade 2 and 3 respectively.      

Through the community meeting of CARE’s WE-BLOOM project, Channary heard about a literacy program starting in her village. She discussed it with her parents and registered in the class immediately. “I was selected to be a beneficiary of a CARE project because I am an illiterate and vulnerable young person who lives in a poor family. I am very happy and encouraged that my parents support me to join in the program,” she says.    

After completing the six month class which helps her learn how to read and write, calculate numeracy and understand general concepts of daily life, she engages with the life skills program, which helps young people develop critical thinking skills, practice good decision making, and build confidence to attain their goals.   

After finishing the life skills training, the project helps this girl to attain her dream as a skillful tailor.  She gets support to be a 6-month apprentice to learn tailoring skills in a shop near Botum Sakor district town. She is hard working, careful and enjoys studying.

Channary is an ambitious girl. She wants to open a tailoring store in her own village by using the acquired skills after graduating from the apprenticeship. “I will run a tailoring store in my village because it is my obvious purpose. I have willingness and commitment to succeed in order to make myself and my family have prosperity and a better life,” she says.

Due to the shortage of capital to run the store, she continues to work with the shop owners for 3 to 4 months in order to save money and practice acquired skills more perfectly with customers.  After only a short period of employment, her workmanship is accredited and admired by the shop owner and customers. She explains with a smiling face that, “To make customers satisfied with my service, I need to have a good relationship with them by using respectful speech and polite gestures following from my technical skill. The literacy and life skills training is also a great help for this.”

The project negotiated with a micro-finance institution to get special support through credit services for participating youth.  Through the linkage, Channary is able to consult with her parents on her clear business plan. She decided to resign from the workplace in order to run a small business in her village by using savings from her family, a package of material support from the project and some capital from the credit service. “I prepared a clear business plan to explain and convince my parents about being confident in my business plan. I looked at the local market and demand in my village, which gave me more confidence to succeed and enabled me to use my profits to pay back the credit very fast. The business helps me to earn income to support my family, and I can live closer to my family too,” she says.

She starts her business with great care.  At first, she designed and tailored the clothes for her relatives and some elders free of charge in order to disseminate her achievements to her own villagers and villagers nearby. Her reputation spread out broadly and quickly from one person to another. Some villagers observed, “It is incredible that she can design and produce such fashionable clothes with only six months coaching.”

Currently, Channary is expanding her scope of business and has more materials in her store. It provides her with a good income of around 50,000 riel a day during dry season and 20,000 riel a day in wet season.  She has paid back the credit service already. She shows her excitement, saying that, “The business helps my family to be better off. I use some parts of my profits to buy food and support my siblings to study. I commit to maintain their study toward higher education, unlike me. And I am also proud of myself that I can earn income without making  a risky migration to another country for income generation like other young people in my community.”

When asked about the change in her daughter, Mrs. Nuon Channa Rin, age 42, explains, “My daughter now has critical thinking, clear judgment and good decision-making after she gets various trainings from CARE.  Before, she was just an illiterate girl who lived in a poor family. She would help me with household chores, take care of her young siblings and go to the sea. My husband and I decided without any hesitation to collect the small savings that are available in my family for her business start-up because I believe in her capacity and commitment. At the present, her business is really successful. I am sure that her life will be brighter in the future.”

“I would like to deeply thank CARE for coming to this rural, remote area to help young people, particularly girls, to have knowledge, vocational skills and income generation opportunities through business start-ups.  As I am a guardian of Channary as well as other young people in my community, I appreciate this project, which rightly supports vulnerable and poor young people, and my daughter is evidence,” her mother says.

It’s not just Channary and her family that are benefiting from her new skills. She is also using them to improve her community as a member of CARE’s youth advisory committee. She explains, “I use some of my business time to join with the project as a youth representative in my village. I come to the elders in the community with concerns raised by youth, and they give us advice. I have raised some issues about the environment, gambling, domestic violence, gender inequality and poor market access. I am very happy that I can have a chance to bring all those concerns up to the local authorities. They listen to me and also give me useful advice.”

“I would like to express my deep gratitude to CARE as well as donors that come to help and release me as well as other rural poor in my village out of poverty. Every dollar from the donor is used very well by CARE to benefit marginalized and vulnerable young people in literacy and also income generation that lets them survive better. This is a giant ladder for rural poor in Cambodia like me to inspire long-lasting change in our lives.  If there is no intervention from CARE as well as generous donors around the world, my dreaming goal will not come true. I wish to have more CARE projects in my village,” she adds.

When asked about her future plan, she says, “I will continue my business and expand it more and grow and grow. I hope that my family will have a better life. If I have children, I will not let them experience things like me. They must go to school and have higher education than me.”

Background: The WE-BLOOM project, which began in July 2009 and will end in June 2012, is focused on Koh Kong province, a coastal community located in southwestern Cambodia, which was only recently connected to Phnom Penh by a series of new roads and bridges. The project will work with marginalized and vulnerable young people (most of whom dropped out of primary school or never enrolled),  especially girls ages 12-24 years old. The project will enhance social and economic opportunities for young people by focusing on improving outcomes in education (literacy and life skills), working opportunities (business training and small business start-up) and improved confidence to participate in decision-making (youth empowerment).