By Chanratana Som, CUFA Cambodia Country Program Manager
Khmer New Year is the greatest traditional festival and national holiday in Cambodia. It is celebrated on April 13 or 14 of each year, as dictated by the lunar calendar and horoscopes.
This national event historically marks the end of the harvest season when the peasants would take a break, enjoy the fruits of their labour and prepare themselves for the upcoming agriculture season.
The New Year holiday is a time of relaxation, reflection, blessings, and provides an opportunity for reunion with family members. Traditionally, Cambodians will clean and decorate their houses to ward off any bad spirits and ensure that their families are protected by the new angel, for the rest of the year. For this reason, most local credit unions celebrate their success during this special occasion with members and community people to ask for good luck in the New Year.
Smaki Arkphi Wat Phoum Dong Rung Roeung (United People for Development and Prosperity of Dong Village) is a model credit union established, with CUFA’s support, in June 2013. Geographically, this credit union is located in Dong village, Choam Krovien commune, Memot district of Kampong Cham province, about 250 kilometers from the capital city of Phnom Penh. There are 1,188 people (239 households) in this village, most of whom are farmers and rubber plantation workers and most live in extreme poverty, earning less than $2 a day.
To welcome in the Khmer New Year and as a double celebration to mark their impending one year anniversary, the members held a blessing ceremony on April 8, at the house of the Credit Union Committee. Fundraising activities had been conducted among the Credit Union members, in order to prepare for the ceremony. Two CUFA staff members, Mr. Borey and Sokha, were also invited to attend the blessing day.
On the day of the blessing, members contributed to the preparation of the festivities by buying materials, sharing recipes, cooking and preparing food. Two Buddhist monks from a nearby pagoda were invited to offer the blessing to the Credit Union and its members to ensure its continued success in the year to come. Following Khmer tradition, the two monks chanted and blessed the participants; the members then offered food to the monks and prayed for a healthy, successful, and prosperous year ahead.
By April 2014, this Credit Union has amassed 80 memberships including 46 women, three children, and one person with a disability. Its savings currently total $2,256.75. Credit Union committee members anticipate that after Khmer New Year more members of the community will join the Credit Union as they have seen the work that is being achieved and the benefits of joining.
Mr. Tram also elaborated that “part of this growing confidence from the community came from CUFA’s support. We got a sign board, safe box, community book, passbook, and T-shirt as well as technical support and training. These have significantly contributed to building trust among local people.”
In the future, this Credit Union wants to see its membership and savings grow, so that it can play a vital role in the community to help the poorer families and individuals get access to affordable loans.