Population: 16.49 million
Poverty rate: 13.5%
Following three decades of devastating conflict, Cambodia has made remarkable progress in poverty reduction. It graduated to low-income country status in 2015, with poverty rates falling from 47.8 per cent in 2007 to 13.5 per cent in 2014. However, many Cambodians in rural areas have not benefited from this economic growth, with 90 per cent of low-income Cambodians living in rural areas, where they are vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters, and lack access to education and employment opportunities. Women and girls are at risk of experiencing gender-based violence or falling victim to human trafficking and unsafe migration in their search for work.
Backing women’s entrepreneurship
When Mrs Phan and her husband left their hometown in Kampong Thom, Cambodia, they though they could earn a better living in the city. Mrs Phan found a job as a factory worker in Phnom Penh and her husband joined the army, but even with their two incomes, they struggled to cover their everyday expenses.
When Mrs Phan fell ill and was forced to undergo surgery, she could no longer work. Her husband had to leave the army to care for her and they took out a loan to cover the medical bills. Forced out of the city, they returned to their hometown and began looking for other opportunities to earn a living.
Mrs Phan began working with her husband to grow mushrooms, however, she lacked the proper training and wasn’t able to produce much. She had to take extra work as a day labourer on nearby farms to earn enough to repay her debts.
Fortunately, Mrs Phan heard about a savings group supported by our local partner, the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center (CWCC), and began attending meetings.
The savings groups teach women financial literacy and encourage them to set money aside each month. With these savings, the groups offer micro-loans with low interest to help their members start small businesses, either individually or in groups, and increase their incomes long-term.
After saving diligently, Mrs Phan was able to take out a loan for a mushroom business. She worked with CWCC to develop a business plan and receive extra agriculture training.
Now, Mrs Phan’s mushrooms are growing so well that she has quit her job as a day labourer to spend more time on her own business.
“Initially, mushroom-growing could not provide much income because we lacked the techniques and materials,” said Mrs Phan. “Thanks to the savings group, my family can earn good income and repay my debt.”
Mrs Phan is now harvesting 20 to 30 kilos of mushrooms per week, earning $4 per kilo. Her dream is to buy land so she can build her own house, and to help other women in her community follow her lead and start businesses of their own.
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