Phon is an energetic young mother from Koh Kong in Cambodia who is helping ensure that her savings group is about more than just money. Under her leadership, women who come together to add to their savings each week are linking healthy finances with healthy children.
Phon has been trained by CARE to act as a Village Agent, responsible for providing support to saving and loans groups and helping the Village Health Support Group to share health messages with community members. Each week when group members gather, she uses this opportunity to add a few minutes of information at the end.
Phon says that this works well because the women are already gathering together so she immediately has a captive audience. “Providing these health messages is important as it maximises the benefit for everyone who joins the meeting each week,” she says.
Many of the messages she share focus on pregnancy and childbirth. One week she talked about what steps to take to stay healthy during pregnancy, such as taking iron supplements and avoiding alcohol; another time she shared the danger signs to look out for and what to do if a pregnant woman exhibits these symptoms.
“People are most interested in the information about preparing for giving birth,” says Phon, who advises women to go to the health centre to give birth so that any complications during delivery can be addressed immediately. “This is very relevant for members of the groups in our villages—in the past four years I have seen 10 pregnancies across the three groups here. Women want to take care of their health and the health of their baby.”
However one of the challenges families can face is the cost of getting to the health centre and the medical fees for delivery. This is where the saving and loans group plays an important role. Women are able to take small loans from the group’s savings at a low rate of interest to pay for their delivery. This means they can spread the cost over a month and they don’t face the difficult decision of what to do if they don’t have cash immediately available when the baby arrives.
Phon is leading by example—she borrowed from the group to cover her medical costs when she had her second child. Her daughter is now a healthy two-year-old. Many others are heeding her advice. “Most of the pregnant women in our groups have requested loans for going to the health centre to deliver their baby,” says Phon.
Phon believes that sharing health information through the saving and loans groups is an important way for women to link their money with how it can best improve their lives.