Written by Vince Stange
Over-age and Beating the Odds
Me Sang high school is a large complex that sits off of the main eastbound dirt road, about 2 kilometers from the town center. With over 500 students enrolled it is the biggest entity around, by far. Tucked in the back of the campus, is a small room that has long been designated as the “Vocational Training Room,” containing about 20 sewing machines with dust covers, remaining from the former phase, which successfully trained [mostly] young girls in the art of sewing and tailoring.
Now, the scene contrasts starkly.
Opposite the sewing machines stands a long workbench strewn with wires and extension cords, crowded by 11 motivated teenagers concentrating on a number of microscopic tasks. This is the first class to participate in a “Small Electronics Repair” program, one that focuses mostly on the repair of cell phones; and, unlike its sewing predecessor, is being taught to a group of all boys.
At the back of the table, one boy sticks out, as he works closely in collaboration with his teacher. His name is Mov Phov and his teacher, Sothea Kheang says, “He is a very resilient, hard worker.” After listening to Mov’s life story and how he found himself sitting in a classroom with a soldering iron and electric contact cleaner, it becomes apparent just how true his teacher’s observations are.
Mov is 20 years old, but is just a few months into his 11th grade year. After inquiring about this apparent age-grade disparity, he goes-on to explain that both of his parents passed away over 10 years ago, and he and his siblings (he is the 3rd of 5 children in his family) were taken in by a neighborhood “aunty,” although she is not actually a relative.
When he was about 12, his foster mother insisted that he stop going to school for a few years so that he could “work as a tractor driver for one of the large-scale farmers, to earn extra income for the family.” Mov dropped-out for 4 years, vowing to return as soon as his family was able to manage financially for him to do so. True to his word, and despite that fact that the vast majority of Cambodian children who stop going to school never make it back to the classroom, he did so.
Though it was discouraging for him to always be nearly 4 years older than his classmates, Mov made it all the way to high school; and, last school year, when he caught word that the Small Electronics Repair program would begin, he was one of the first to apply. He said, “I was always interested in fixing things, and I know that this could also be a way to always make money and have a back-up plan if I am unable to go to college.”
Today, “he is one of the most focused and motivated students,” says Lokru Sothea, “he’s always coming even when the roads are bad and attendance is low.” Not only is he learning a lot about fixing cell phones and other small electronics, but he’s able to make a bit of money to pay for school fees and materials. “Sometimes my neighbors will have an issue with a phone and they will come find me, because they know that I am learning about this,” he states.
Just 8 months into the program, Mov is able to make about $5 to $10 a month while also learning new skills. “It’s not a lot of money, but it’s just enough to pay for some school materials,” he says.
As for the future, Mov says, “I am still worried. I’m worried about my Aunty and my little sister, but things are going a lot better than they used to.”
He plans to continue his studying into next year until he takes the 12th grade exit exam. “If I pass, I will be excited to go to college to learn really good English and to eventually become a professional translator. If I don’t pass, these skills will be a great backup.” He went on to explain that he plans to fix cellphones as a side job if he gets to college, in order to pay for his living expenses in Phnom Penh.
Sister Chhoeurn Saboern is a farmer who lives in Doung Mear Village, Sdao Koung Commune, Ba Phnom District, which is one of ODOVs five target villages. Sister Saboern’s family experiences food shortages and poor living conditions. Sister Saboern’s mother was sick, her children are still small and cannot help her to generate income or take care of their home, which made the family’s situation more difficult.
Sister Saboern told ODOV staff that before 2015 her family’s living situation was very bad and that they were in debt about $500 to a micro-finance institution and was not able to repay it, so their family was forced to migrate to seek more work in Phnom Penh. Sister Saboern became a garment worker and her husband became porter carrying cement for construction. Sister Saboern continued that she was able to make $120 per month as a garment worker, while her husband could make $5-$8 per day delivering cement. However, this income could not cover all of their daily expenses, including food, accommodations, utilities, and medical care and medication when their children were sick. From month to month their living conditions went from bad to worse, which contradicted their original expectations that they would have better living conditions after migrating to Phnom Penh.
At the beginning of 2015, Sister Saboern’s family could not afford to struggle in their poor situation anymore, so they decided to return back home. At the same time, ODOV had begun to work in their village to implement the Livelihood Improvement Project (LIP) which was supported by World Renew. Because Sister Saboern’s family was poor she was selected to participate with this project and became a member of the village bank.
Since then, Sister Saboern participated in ODOV training on homestead food production, including vegetable production, and fish and poultry raising. The project also provided some funds for her to dig a fish pond. Sister Saboern’s family built a small house next to their fish pond and worked hard to prepare their fish pond to raise fish, as well as their garden to grow vegetables. Because of their hard work and dedication to practicing the knowledge and skills that they obtained from their training they were successful in growing vegetables, as well as raising fish and poultry.
Sister Saboern said: “I am happy because this time I am not in misery anymore, as I was in Phnom Penh. I live in my village on my own land and I can grow vegetables, and raise poultry and fish. My living conditions are not so difficult anymore because I have vegetables, that I grow naturally, and fish for daily consumption. I have reduced almost 100% of my expenses from purchasing vegetables and fish from the market. My small children are not sick often anymore because we have our own vegetables and fish to eat (access to nutritious food). Moreover, I can make 50 cents to $1.50 per day from selling vegetables, which contributes towards sending my children to school.”
This story is an example of how migration does not always improve families living conditions, but instead can make things worse. ODOV believes that finding ways to generate income at home provides a better chance of success for livelihood sustainability than migrating to seek work.
Brother You Sarun, 56 years old, and his wife Sek Nam, 60 years old, have six children together, four boys and two girls. They all live in Horb village, KhorKhchork commune, Kampong Trabaek district, Prey Veng province. Their living condition was poor and dependent upon rice cultivation in a small plot of rice field that they owned.
“I am very much happy. Since I participated with ODOV project, make my family lives and meets together. I have food to eat and make income to support my family through implement food security activity. Before, I did not expect that I do these such works and receive income but only one thing that I have to migrate outside village to seek for work, so I can make income. In fact, what I thought was wrong” You Sarun said.
Brother You Sarun was one of the beneficiaries who have been participated with ODOVPICD project since June 2014. Through the project, he has obtained with training on sustainable agriculture techniques as well as receiving some agriculture inputs. With these resources and technical supports enabling Sarun’s family implement the food security activity at their home.Photo: Brother Sarun harvesting cucumbers from his home garden.
Brother Sarun has prepared a home garden, size 20meteres long and 10 meters width. He grew different varieties of vegetables, over 7 varieties. Along with vegetable cultivation, he also grew fish and raise chickens. With his attempting and efforts, his family has increased food for household consumption as well as some additional income from selling the surplus produced. His family has access to vegetable or fish meat or chicken meat on daily basic. He was able to harvest vegetables and sale for income around $3-$5 per day. Furthermore, he also received some income from selling chick meat around $7-$10 per month.
“My family members, children and grandchildren are healthy because they can eat to nutritious food that I produced. In particularly, one thing that I could not forget in mind was that I gained more understanding the value of doing these such works” You Sarun said.
Before participating with ODOVPICD project, he often migrated outside village to seek for work as construction worker in Phnom Penh in order to earn more money to support the family.
“I am very much grateful and thanks to ODOV and donors who come to work and helping mentoring my family as well as other community members in my village to work together and increased solidarity through village bank”. You Sarun said Photo: Brother Sarun and his wife Sister Nam with their grandchildren.
This above story is just a case of showing the impact ODOVPICD project that has been implemented in the past years. ODOVPIDC project provided significant change for many more farm families in rural areas of Prey Veng province. Farmers have options access to nutritious food for daily household consumption as well as receiving income to support family’s need. They enjoyed meeting living together in the family.
Sister Ven Phala, who is 44 years old, and her 54 year old husband, ChheunChhorn, are a couple living with Phala’s elderly grandmother in Prey Thom village, KohKhork commune in Kampong Trabaek district, Prey Veng province.
Phala spoke to an ODOV field staff about some of the challenges that her family faced as a result of inadequate income, the family is a rice farming family that was often unable to pay for day to day expenses. Daily expenses included health expenses, food, and general family expenses. Many of the health issues are related to inadequate diet and food tainted with chemicals, including agriculture pesticides and insecticides. A significant amount of the family’s income is spent on paying for treatment and health care for sick family members. Phala decided to migrate on a semi-regular basis to address issues of inadequate income.
In May 2015 ODOV conducted project promotion on PICD activities and objectives in Prey Thom village. Sister Phala expressed interest in project activities and decided to participate. ODOV provided training to Village Bank (VB) members on nutritious household food preparation, integrated sustainable agriculture techniques adapted to climate change, as well as provided agriculture inputs to Sister Phala. Her family received ten different varieties of vegetable seed, seven kilograms of live chickens procured from a local distributor, 300 fish fingerlings, and three bags of cement (150 kilograms in total). Sister Phala prepared a home garden, 800 m2, as well as raised chickens and fish. By raising chickens and fish and growing vegetables Sister Phala was able to reduce the amount of food purchased from the market and also sell extra agricultural production to earn additional income. The family has been able to generate an additional $1.00 to $2.50 per day from the sales of chicken, vegetables, and fish. In addition to generating additional income and food for consumption Phala has been able to save $1.00 to $2.50 each month in the Village Bank to be used for future expenses.Photo: Sister Phala feeding her Chickens
In the words of Sister Phala: “In the past I was not interested in vegetable cultivation or fish farming on the yard because it did not seem to be a good option for my family. When I decided to join the ODOV project and participated in the training sessions about vegetable cultivation, fish and chicken raising, and the benefits of a home garden I became very interested in these opportunities. My family now has chemical free vegetables and meat to eat every day, improved health, and a better income. It is important for people in the community to work together and be able to save money in the Village Banks in order to use in the future.”Photo: Sister Phala harvesting fish from her pond
Sister Phala’s story is just one example of the work that ODOV is doing in Kampong Trabaek district to encourage local citizens to improve their lives through integrated community development. With the financial and technical assistance of MCC and CFGB many vulnerable farmers in Mesang and Kampong Trabaek districts have improved food security and income through the implementation of sustainable agriculture techniques. Household’s nutrition and hygiene has improved as a result of a number of different training sessions. Project participants also have access to localized financial institutions, Village Banks and Agriculture Cooperatives, which allows farmers to save and borrow money easily.
Story by Vince Stange, Education Program Facilitator for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and ODOV Partner
Sewing provides self-sufficiency, staying in school
It’s 1:45 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon and 16-year-old Phatt Sreyleak is busy taking measurements on another customer. She doesn’t have much time to sit and talk with us, as her shirt orders are backing-up, so she asks if we can talk while she works. Sreyleak runs a tiny storefront shop at the front of her house, located about 20 km from the nearest major town on a dirt road, depending on word-of-mouth to gain customers. The family has no connection to wired electricity, so she uses a gas burner to heat-up a pressing iron as she manually operates the sewing machine with her foot. “I love being able to run this business part-time, and still stay in school,” she says, “It makes me feel independent, and I would not be able to pay for private classes, without it.”
Since Cambodian schools only offer morning classes for free, it is imperative that students planning to go to university and pursue professional careers pay extra money for classes during breaks and weekends. “I want her to stay in-school and become a doctor, but we can’t afford for her to take extra classes and buy stationary on our income alone,” says Sreyleak’s mother, Nyum Huen, “In fact, her father is working in Thailand now, to make extra income so that we can try to save money and pay back the loan we took-out from the bank.” In the meantime, Sreyleak’s mother, who sells gasoline, cold drinks, and vegetables next to the sewing shop, wants her to use any money that is left-over to pay for private classes. Despite heavy financial pressure on the family, she maintains that she will not allow Sreyleak to quit school and work full-time to make more money, stating, “For now, we are getting-by, and her father will stay in Thailand until we can save up more money. I don’t want her quitting high school, since she only has 3 years until she finishes.”
One thing that Sreyleak’s mother loves about her sewing is how she is able to use her creativity to make money. “Her shirts are traditional, but with some unique patterns and pockets; everyone in the area has been hearing about her work and she is getting a lot more customers.”
Unfortunately, Sreyleak is taking-in a very small amount of money at the end of the month, because she must pay back a bank loan that she recently applied-for, in order to purchase her sewing machine, seam machine, and inventory of cloth. “After I pay the loan and for classes, I only have about 20,000 Riel left (approx. $5 USD), but that’s ok, eventually I will have more.” Until then, Leak, who lives with her mother, younger brother, and grandparents, remains very busy—with a full schedule of classes in the mornings, running her sewing business from 1-4:30, and then biking 5 km away for private classes from 5-6.
Prey Veng Province continues to be the poorest province in Cambodia, where the average family is only able to provide for itself for about 9 months out of the year. This puts many families; particularly children, into compromising situations. The lure of ‘quick money’ from factories in Thailand and Phnom Penh often attract children as young as a 11 or 12. As a result of incredibly low rice yields, due to climate, terrain and irrigation constraints, and low availability of formal and vocational education, migration often seems like the only option.
Photo: Srey Leak’s entire family; grandfather, grandmother, mother and younger brother, proudly pose with her and the certificate of completion she earned through the Vocational Training program.
The Occupational Training Program, facilitated by MCC’s partner organization, ODOV, continues to thrive and provide crucial opportunities in Mesang District, Prey Veng Province, one of the poorest areas of Cambodia, with one of the highest rates of work-related migration. The program is equipping woman and men, alike, with the skills needed to start and join existing sewing businesses. This is allowing them to support themselves and their loved-ones, without having to leave the District. Plans are underway to expand the program next year, to teach additional skills, including: small-electronics repair, hairdressing, and cosmetology.
Photo: Srey Leak sews the collar of a dress shirt in her small shop at the from of her house, using a foot-operated sewing machine.
Photo: Srey Leak holds-up freshly-pressed, men’s and women’s dress shirts that she has just finished, standing in-front of her shop.
Story by Sony, ODOV Project Coordinator
If you were to travel from Spean Market to Prey Toteng Market through the Phao Village, Prey Toteng Commune, Mesang District, Prey Veng Province, you would see many small houses along your path. One of those houses belongs to Sister Savin. Sister Savin is 38 years old and her husband, Mr. Net Pha, is 47. Together they have two children, an 18-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter; Their daughter studies in grade 5. Sister Savin says that for her family things are very difficult because she is very poor and sometimes it can be difficult just to acquire the necessary amount of food to have three meals a day. Sister Savin’s husband decided to migrate to Phnom Penh to get a job carrying fruit, to supply fruit sellers, in an attempt to support his family better. Her son decided to stop studying in grade 7 to help find money to support the family and he works with his father. So, Sister Savin and her daughter live at home alone.
Her husband and son collectively can only make 25000 riel to 40 000 riel per day from carrying fruit. This money is not enough to support the family because her husband and son need to spend money to find accommodation, food, and medicine in the city. So, there is almost no money to send home to Sister Savin. Because her husband cannot make a lot of money he is unable to afford the trip home to visit his family. Sister Savin has 0.60 hectares of land for rice cultivation which brings in very little money and before she joined ODOVs project she did not have any other sources of income, such as other crops to sell or a small business. For three consecutive years, the weather has been unpredictable causing floods and drought which has caused her rice crops to yield less during harvest and the rice prices have also dropped significantly, preventing her from making a sustainable income.
In June 2016, Organization to Develop Our Villages (ODOV), began collaborating with village chiefs in Phao Village to select target households for the Improved Household Food Security Project (IHFSP) according to project criteria, and to promote the project. From the very beginning of promotion in Phao Village Sister Savin was very interested in taking part in the project, and once chosen to participate has enjoyed taking part. After joining the project, she attended training courses organized by ODOV staff about cultivating vegetables, raising poultry and fish, and making fertilizer. After she had received training she was very interested in raising poultry and making compost. Because of ODOVs technical support Sister Savin has been successful in raising poultry and making compost. Now she has 13 hens and 2 roosters for breeding, 33 chickens for selling for meat, and 80 chicks. She has been able to sell 13 kilos of chicken per month generating a monthly income of 200 000 riel. Sister Savin had never imagined that raising chicken at home could support her family financially.
Sister Savin said: “I am very happy with my work raising poultry. In the future, I want to have 35 hens. I especially want my daughter to continue studying and to get into university. I do not want her to stop studying like my son had to. In my home, I can now generate enough money to support my daughter to go to school. When I am able to raise more poultry my husband and son will not have to go to Phnom Penh for work. What I did not expect to learn about raising chickens at home was that banana trees, water grass, water melon, and foraged green leaves from around the house could be used to make natural chicken feed that would help my chickens grow faster.”
Lastly, Sister Savin is thankful to ODOV staff, who have spent a lot of time helping her to support her family by providing technical training and materials, such as 2 chickens, 30 meters of mesh for building her chicken enclosure, the materials for building 1 cage for keeping chicks, 1 gardening hoe, 2 watering cans, and 5-7 kinds of vegetable seeds. With support form ODOV Sister Savin will begin preparing the land in front of her home to grow vegetables for her household. She once viewed this land as insignificant, but ODOV has taught her that it can be used to support her family.