Beth Sem: Building a better life in Cambodia

Posted on April 18, 2018

Beth Sem in her vegetable garden - Action on Poverty

In this blog post, Christine Murphy, our International Programs Director, shares the story of a special woman she met on her recent trip to Cambodia:

Meeting Beth Sem

It is the stories of those like Beth Sem that inspire us to work with local Cambodian partners like the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center (CWCC). This is work that helps vulnerable women change their lives for the better. Admiration for these women and the work is predominately what I take away from these visits.

Christine Murphy and Beth Sem - Action on Poverty

For women like Beth Sem, life has always been difficult. Living on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, the 48-year-old mother is not so different in age to myself, but her circumstances could not be further from mine. She spent her childhood living through one of the most difficult periods of Cambodia’s history, had limited access to education, and was married and widowed young. She was left with three small children to raise, all while facing significant discrimination because of the illness that took her husband’s life, and also affected her.

The weight of poverty

When I visited recently, she said that there were many times over the years she could have given up if it wasn’t for her children. She lived in a shack that was in such bad condition that she had to take shelter in the chicken house when storms hit. Her eldest son dropped out of school to take a job as a labourer to pay for a surgery she needed. Tears stung my eyes when I heard these stories, but I tried hard not to let her see.

Beth Sem in her garden - Action on Poverty

Building a new life

We started working with Beth Sem 18 months ago, and she told me her life has improved so much since that time. Through financial support and training, she has been able to rent a small plot of land and now plants a commercial quantity of vegetables that she sells at an agreed price to a middle man, who takes them to markets to sell outside the nearby factories. She rotates what she grows depending on the season and now has a small but reasonably steady income.

One of the local leaders was so impressed with her hard work and diligence when she managed to build herself a new house, that he even gave her his old television, which looks oddly out of place. Her standing in the community has also improved. Beth Sem is smiling and hopeful that her two youngest children will now manage to finish high school. That is what she is aiming for – a brighter future for them.

Beth Sem - Action on Poverty

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