Koh Kong, located in the South-west of Cambodia is one of the poorest provinces in the country. Many of the problems of poor rural families in the province are exacerbated by limitations in health knowledge, education, economic opportunities, and the availability of basic service delivery.
The 23-year-old Mrs. Yorm Khun has been married for six years and has two young sons. The young couple has low literacy and few skills, meaning the family has struggled to make ends meet. “We had no good jobs for earning income other than planting rice,” she said. “If we are lucky with the weather, we might have enough food for a year, but we experience food shortages if the rice yield is not good.”
With no land of their own for planting rice, Khun had no choice but to rent from neighbours in exchange for part of their rice yield at the end of the season. She found her family was getting sick more often than others in her community, particularly her children. Khun said, “I had no money to buy good food for my children, did not have enough time to take care of them and had no savings to access proper health services. When my family members got sick, I relied mainly on the traditional healer in my village since it is close and the cost is low”.
Khun also faced difficulties borrowing money for emergencies. “Banks or micro finance institutions require collateral or land for loan requests and have complex application processes, while the local money lender charges high interest rates. I was unable to afford the requirements”.
CARE Cambodia’s Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) project is providing community members, especially women, with a simple approach to savings and loans which helps people like Khun manage their finances. The VSLA is easy to access as it is self-managed by the community and does not require complex documentation procedures or collateral.
Ms. Khun joined a VSLA group in her village in early 2013 to save money with her neighbours and finds it an easy process to understand. “It’s very simple to borrow from the group,” she says. The group’s support to set aside a small amount of money each week has resulted in improvements in her family’s standard of living. “I have used my savings for buying seeds for growing vegetables in my home garden and for buying chickens and pigs for raising at home. Now, we have vegetables and animals to eat.”
As well as contributing to their savings each week, Khun’s group also set up a social fund to help members access healthcare in the case of an emergency. This fund serves as a mechanism to ensure people can access services such as emergency healthcare, which they otherwise may have avoided due to the cost. For many remote communities, simply the cost of transport to the nearest health centre may prevent them from seeking medical advice so this fund offers reassurance that members can access services when they need.
“Through the VSLA, I received support from the social fund for taking my son to the health centre when he had a high fever. I also borrowed money from the group twice: once to take my husband to the hospital and another time to buy food for my children to improve their nutrition.”
The VSLA is just one way in which CARE Cambodia has been working with women such as Khun. The organisation has been using a comprehensive holistic development strategy to address the underlying causes of poverty and bring about long-lasting change to people’s lives in Koh Kong. This has included, among others, providing skill building and market linkages for improved income, advocacy for increased economic opportunities, and enhancing and enlarging quality health service delivery.
Khun is a shining example of how these integrated development activities impact many aspects of a member’s life and will be felt by those around them. Access to money through the VSLA has allowed her to act on her improved health and nutrition knowledge, gained through sessions with the village health support group, for the benefit of her children. Following skills training on livestock raising, she now plans to use her savings to expand her home livestock activities to earn income to support her children’s education. The effect of these changes on just one woman has led to a sense of purpose that will be felt for generations.
“I will use my savings to afford my sons schooling,” she states. “I commit to offer my sons a higher level of education than my husband and I experienced. When they have their own families, they will have good education and skills to earn income. I can now imagine how their futures can be bright, which makes me very happy.”