Scholarship winner shares her “unique and humbling” award experience

The last time we heard from Julie Scharf, Queensland Country Credit Union, she was busy fundraising and preparing for her Harry Zaphir Scholarship prize– an insider’s view into some of CUFA’s empowering development projects in Cambodia.

Julie has since returned from her life-changing trip where she saw first-hand how CUFA works to improve livelihoods and alleviate poverty.

“Spending an unforgettable seven days throughout the provinces of Cambodia was a unique and humbling experience…

Before setting off to Cambodia I raised over $4,500 to assist in CUFA programs such as the Village Entrepreneur (VE) Program. The fundraising itself was hard work, but rewarding with so many of my colleagues from ECU and QCCU helping out.

I met the board of the local agricultural co-operative (credit union) and we discussed how well the credit union was going and what it is doing for the local communities – reinvesting profits back into the credit union and villages. They have recently moved to using a computer and software to record transactions and calculate interest – something they used to do manually! The credit union continues to grow and the board were very passionate about helping members and the villages within the area.

I could see the benefits of the VE Program and how it can help to lift an individual and their family out of poverty and support the village in which they live.  One lady told me how she was upset that she could not send her own daughter to school as she could not afford to do so.  She then joined the VEP about a year ago and is now helping to send her grandson to school! Each VE appreciated the support and they all said they would continue to implement what they have learned and continue to run their microbusinesses.

I was also fortunate enough to also visit a local primary school in Takeo Province.  I sat in a class and learned about the Children’s Financial Literacy program (CFL) … The teacher said this program has helped to make a difference in the children’s spending behaviours and that many already have some savings.”

-       Julie Scharf, Queensland Country Credit Union

2016 Recipient of the Harry Zaphir Scholarship Prize


CUFA Empowers Youth at Congress in Bougainville

CUFA is delighted to announce that the 3 day Bougainville Youth Initiative Emerging Leaders Congress, held at Arawa in late May and attended by more than 400 young people from across the island, was a resounding success.

The Youth Congress was the culmination of more than two years’ work and collaboration between CUFA and young local men and women aged from 15- 25 years, coupled with the support of village elders, as part of the Bougainville Youth Initiative (BYI) Project.

Known in the local language as the ‘Rot Bilong Ol Angpla Blo Bihain Taim’, the Bougainville Youth Initiative Project was run by CUFA and was sponsored by Australian Government. The purpose of the project was to help young people from across Bougainville to improve their livelihoods and increase their employment opportunities.

Throughout the Congress, the youth showed community leaders and council of elders how the last two years of participating in the CUFA- run project has positively impacted their lives.

There were employment expos for the young people to meet with employers and to speak about the prospects of getting a job, as well as opportunities to express their own business ideas.

Each region of Bougainville’s youth presented on how their community was specifically impacted by the education and assistance they had received from CUFA.

Selected by the local communities themselves, the Youth Project participants created social enterprises made up of at least 20 young people. In developing their social enterprise, each group had to work together and share their existing knowledge and skills, as well as learn new skills guided by CUFA, so that their social enterprise could grow and thrive.

The stories that have already emerged from the social enterprises are empowering and inspiring, such as Bill’s story here.

Watch Bill’s inspiring 1 minute video here.


ASL’s Charity Day gets a hole-in-one!

The proceeds from Australian Settlement’s Limited (ASL)’s Golf Charity Day in March for CUFA were phenomenal – we could not have achieved such a great outcome without the strong support of ASL for which we are truly grateful.

On Monday 27 March, ASL hosted their annual Charity Golf Day to raise money for organisations, including CUFA, at the Northbridge Golf Club.  It was a wonderful day, and raised more than $33,000 all up!

CUFA would like to thank David Jay and the entire ASL team, the participants, and the auction winners for their time and generosity.

The funds raised from the day will go towards projects in Cambodia, Timor-Leste and the Pacific that aim to empower people to lift themselves out of poverty. The support of ASL helps to ensure that CUFA can provide financial education to those living in some of the most disadvantaged communities in the world, ultimately empowering them to break free from the poverty cycle.

Thanks again, ASL!

For more information on David Jay, click here.



Transitioning to independence in the Pacific

A decade ago, CUFA helped establish the Oceanic Confederation of Credit Unions (OCCUL), a membership organisation with the purpose to assist financial cooperatives, village banks and credit unions in the Pacific region with technical assistance, alongside the annual Pacific Credit Union Technical Congress.

Now, CUFA is proud to announce that as of 1 July 2017,  the Oceanic Confederation of Credit Union will become independent!  Board representatives from Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Federated States of Micronesia, the Solomon Islands, New Zealand and Australia met to sign the Deed of Arrangement to transfer ownership and governance functions from CUFA to the OCCUL Advisory Board. The transition from establishment to independent governance is a major step forward for OCCUL, and we’re delighted to see the transition!


CUFA wishes the OCCUL team a successful future.  If you would like to find out more about the Congress, held in October 2017 in Nadi, please visit occul.org or email Secretariat Officer, Luse Tamani, at luse.tamani@cufa.org.au.

20170321 _ Writing down what can be impacted to their environment if climate change

Action on Poverty: a Gender and Climate Change workshop

In the last week of February, Action on Poverty (AoP), a proud partner of CUFA, conducted a workshop on Gender and Climate Change in the Tha Yat Chaung Village in Myanmar. 

Kwaw Zin Myo, CUFA’s Myanmar Country Program Manager documents the success of the collaboration:

This village is also home to the Women-focused Self-help Groups Program, also funded by AoP, who joined the workshop. There were a total of more than 30 members from 3 Women focused self-help Groups, plus village chiefs and the community leader who joined the workshop.

The 3-day workshop gave the Village useful knowledge on Climate Change and Gender roles. The workshop consisted of a Gender session on the first day, a Climate Change session on the second day, and a combination of the two issues on the final day.

Mr Jerry delivered the Climate Change seminar, grabbing the participants’ attention with his Power Point presentation and video clips. During this session, the participants brainstormed and investigated maps together. Each group then presented their understandings of Mr Jerry’s contents to the rest of the workshop to effectively demonstrate their learning.

20170321 _ AoP trainers sharing knowledge on climate change to AFAP members.

(click on the images to enlarge them) On the Second day, Ms. Sem led the workshop and explained Gender equality. The participants gained knowledge on what gender meant to them, the varied roles of gender, equality, and same rights and same opportunities across all sectors including economic participation and decision-making.

On the last day, an establishment between Climate changes effects on Gender gave the members a full picture of the workshop. Activities continued with group discussion, team work, drawing out maps and final group presentations.

20170321 _  After finished the AoP workshop on climate change, took the group photo and everything is gone pretty well.

In conclusion, the participants clearly understood how to take part in climate adaptation to stop global warming and other effects of climate change. They now believe that if everyone unites to take a stand to try and end some parts of climate change that occurs, this world will be a safer place to live in.

The participants expressed their thanks to CUFA and AoP for this workshop for it being really useful for their livelihood.

Kyaw Zin Myo | Country Program Manager | CUFA (Myanmar)



Trusting in the bright future of Bougainville’s youth

We spoke to our Bougainville Country Program Manager James Neo to gain some more insight into his personal journey with CUFA and the hard work and trust needed to get this project running smoothly and efficiently.

Tell us about your career before CUFA

Prior to working for CUFA, I have been working within the development arena for over five years coordinating and implementing donor funded development projects with various organizations, covering the UN Women (formerly United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women-UNIFEM)’s Supporting Gender Equality in the context of HIV/AIDS project, the International Organization for Migration (IOM)’s Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Project, and the PNG Institute of Medical Research, coordinating the sexual and behavioural research studies across PNG.

After delivering and reporting on IOM’s DRR pilot project outcomes in April 2014, I was offered another opportunity to pursue further studies through the Australia Awards Scholarship. At the end of 2016, I was conferred a Masters in International Development at the Flinders University, Australia.

What do you like to do in your spare time?  

Relaxing and hanging out with friends always make my spare time fun and being energised in preparation for the forthcoming week’s tasks.

What do you hope to achieve in your role at CUFA?

I hope to put a smile on the faces of the youths in the remote communities of Bougainville through our participatory and inclusive programming. Youth led initiatives are supported, ensuring that youths’ independently find solutions to their local problems and become model citizens in order to build a stronger, and prosperous society    

What has been the highlight of your role so far?

We are a small team of 6 staff, but putting the Bougainville Youth Initiative (BYI) project on track through community consultation and trust building efforts has been achieved through consorted efforts from the CUFA Bougainville staff. So my motor is “Together we can” and everyone deserve special recognition for their tireless efforts in delivering the program outcomes way ahead of the targets.  

What has been the most challenging aspect?

I have encountered two key challenges and these are firstly, building community trust and confidence after certain staff tarnished the image of CUFA’s program, and secondly, getting my hands around the processes and systems required for reporting.

What impact do you see CUFA having in Bougainville?

It would be premature to talk about the impact of the project as I am new, however, CUFA’s BYI project have changed the attitudes and behaviours of youths, not only through the training programs, but the ability of the youths to be innovative in designing micro business development concepts, taking the lead in mobilizing resources with co-support from CUFA to implement these initiatives. This demonstrated to have significant changes in the lives of youths and the idea of dependency on handouts has become something of the past and CUFA’s project anticipates to promote youth’s that are self-reliant and able to be the agents of change in their respective communities.  

To find out more and directly support the Bougainville Youth Program, contact us HERE.

Team Bougainville: Meet Emilio

Emilio Billy is the newest member of CUFA’s Bougainville team. He joined us after completing our  Youth Training Program. We had a chat to Emilio to learn more about him and his journey from participant to Project Officer. 



1. How did you come to be working at CUFA?

Through interest and commitment. I am passionate about the work CUFA does and the programs being delivered. For example, I was once a participant of CUFA’s training programmes and my commitment demonstrated to have produced significant result to be where I am. So that interest motivated me to be part of that organisation to learn more and impart the knowledge to the younger generations. When there is opportunity, you grabbed it, and that is where am now as a CUFA project officer, and it’s so wonderful to work with CUFA.

2. Describe your family?

We were four in the family and I am the second among my three sisters. My parents were subsistence farmers. They worked very hard to bring us up to where we are today, where my elder sister and I now now teachers, but I work as a CUFA project officer. My third sister is doing her final year in college studying accounting, and the youngest one is currently in year 12.

3. What do you like to do in your spare time?

Doing self-assessment on week’s activities and making improvements for the coming week’s activities.

4. What do you learn on your CUFA training?

I have learnt so many positive lessons from the CUFA training. One I particularly remember is: in order for the participants to be interested in what you are trying to teach them, you must have the interest in the content of that topic so that the sessions also become engaging and inspiring.

5. What do you hope to do in the future?

I want to spend time with my community and transfer the knowledge I gained from CUFA, which can enable the people to be self-reliant and to improve their livelihoods.

6. What advice do you have for other young people in Bougainville?

Bougainville is known for its abundance; an island floating in the Pacific Ocean containing all the minerals you can name, and yet, we are becoming poorer – why? It is because our leaders have lost focus, and I thank CUFA for stepping in to filling this gap. Therefore, my advice to the young Bougainvillians is to start small but think big in whatever you want to accomplish in life.

7. What do you hope for in your country?

I have hope that my country will one day be like a little heaven on earth, enhanced with determined young people with positive attitudes for the future. It’s time to change our attitudes for a better Bougainville.


Read more of our Boungainville experiences here


CUFA Community Placement Program participants in Cambodia

The Power of Financial Services in Poor Communities

Insights and observations from University of Sydney Community Placement Program participant Chloe Chen Qing Ling who volunteered in Cambodia during her summer holiday.

Financial services and products can be hard to access for people in remote and rural areas, not only because of poverty and distance, but because of the lack of comprehensive legal frameworks with regard to property rights, asset valuation, and credit systems. Nonetheless, low-income populations are as resourceful and entrepreneurial as anywhere else in the world when they’re given well-functioning financial institutions and systems. Financing activities can achieve enormous economic improvement in the lives of people living in these remote areas, by enabling the efficient use of capital throughout society as a whole.

What CUFA does to help establish a system of village savings banks in poor communities is much more than just that; CUFA  brings sense to many other fundamental perspectives in empowering people and combating poverty through financial education. CUFA’s team helps local people to form healthy savings habits, equipping them with essential financial skills such as budgeting and accounting. CUFA educates children in financial literacy so that they receive knowledge relating to saving and spending from an early age.  For many people across the region, financial education, skills development and access to safe places to save money empowers them to build better lives for themselves and break out of the cycle of poverty for good.

I was lucky to be chosen to volunteer with CUFA through the University of Sydney’s Community Placement Program.  During my one-month stay in Cambodia, I visited village savings banks and credit unions in two provinces, Prey Veng and Kampong Chhnang. In Kampong Chhnang province, I visited one village bank established by CUFA in 2012, and was happy to learn that it now ranks in the top 3 out of 48 financial cooperatives in the province in terms of capital and members gained. In Prey Veng province, I also learned about one specific program launched by CUFA, the Children’s Financial Literacy (CFL) project. This program’s goal is to facilitate financial educational lessons in schools alongside the local village bank’s framework.  As part of my volunteer project, I helped to design a niche market product – children’s saving accounts – to help form children’s savings habits and attract children’s savings for village banks with considerations drawn from both parents and committee members’ perspectives.

I was also able to see changes that CUFA has brought to local communities. I learned from pictures what villages were like 3 to 5 years ago. Houses and roads were in very  poor condition; and not many villagers had the knowledge for effective savings or accounting. Now we were able to see many neat houses with plumbing and sanitation facilities. The people we interviewed told us that the information they learned from CUFA around savings habits, budgeting skills and financial planning truly changed their lives. Now people are able to dream bigger and have more control over their own circumstances. Many of the people I met, expect to start or expand their small businesses with the help of financial services available through their local village bank. Almost all the families we spoke to cherish the dream of being able to provide tertiary education for their children – which is costly, they know, but no longer an impossibility now that they’re empowered by their savings plans.

Pictured above: CUFA’s Community Placement Program participants Pearl, Chloe and Jamie from the University of Sydney Business School in Cambodia, December 2016.

Community banking in Samalete self help group

News from the field: an update from Timor-Leste’s Country Manager

Francelino joined CUFA as Country Manager, Timor-Leste in 2016.  Here are some of his reflections on CUFA’s work in the field there:

70% of my country’s people live in rural areas and work as farmers.  The support CUFA is able to provide to the farmers is life-changing and recognises the reality of life in our new country.  I am proud to be a part of the CUFA team.

In Timor, the Credit Union Development (CUD) project works with communities to create new community savings groups which pool together money and offer productive loans to members.  The project has longer term impacts including a change of mindset around financial management, community leadership, trust and shared responsibility. Community pride is an unexpected result of developing a community bank or savings group.   Communities which were previously impoverished and fractured begin to give priority to long-term outcomes like education of their kids and access to health care.

CUFA provides amazing guidance and support for people in rural areas, which is why it has been so successful.  The Village Entrepreneurs are trained and guided through some tough decision making and end up with sustainable micro-businesses.  It brings me joy to see their progress.

I am also proud of the team here in Timor.  The guys travel to distant locations on motorbikes and work tirelessly in the field to make a difference.

CUFA has been in Timor for ten years now and its legacy is obvious.  I am now eager to innovate and find new ways the team and I can develop financial inclusion in my country.  We have lots of ideas to support social businesses and undertake more financial literacy training.

- By Francelino Guterres 

Members of the Aimerahun savings group

Members of the Aimerahun savings group

CUFA staff working with Village Entrepreneurs in Letefoho

CUFA staff working with Village Entrepreneurs in Letefoho

Community banking in Samalete self help group

Francelino Guterres

Francelino Guterres, Country Program Manager Timor-Leste


CUFA’s 4 Es: Economic, Enterprise, Employment and Education

CUFA’s 4 Es: Economic, Enterprise, Employment and Education

For more than 45 years, CUFA has been facilitating and assisting emerging community banks, savings groups and financial cooperatives across the Asia-Pacific region. We thank all our supporters for enabling this important work in the fight against poverty. You are central to our success.

CUFA’s work empowers people living in poverty to build their communities and participate in their local economies. At the heart of our work is the development of village savings and loans programs.  Village banks allow people with no access to financial services to have a safe and secure place to save their money, and enables them to access loans.

Over the past few years, our projects have expanded to include financial literacy education for children and adults, support for development of micro-enterprises and social enterprises, and employment placement for the long-term under-employed.  Most recently CUFA has run employment expos for people living in poverty in Phnom Penh and Poi Pet in Cambodia.

These programs give people a much needed hand up, not a hand out.  At CUFA we are proud to work directly with communities to ensure their needs are central to every program we run.

Strong partnerships, effective outcomes

CUFA is recognised as a global leader in community bank development, and our evaluations show impact and effectiveness. We celebrate our partners and donors who have enabled this experience and expertise to reach into the poorest communities in our region.

Funding from the Australian Government and multi-laterals like the Asian Development Bank enables us to continue our life-saving work and recognises the important role that CUFA plays in development. CUFA, alongside other like-minded community organisations, are powerful agents of change, often working in places that are hard to reach such as remote, fragile or disaster-affected areas. The development work conducted by CUFA contributes to the depth and reach of Australia’s aid program and helps add a particular focus on supporting women, girls and people with a disability.

The ACFID Code of Conduct

CUFA is also fully accredited by the Australian Government through the Australian Aid program and is a signatory to the Australian Council for International Development’s Code of Conduct.   ACFID’s Code ensures that signatories uphold ethical standards in the delivery of programs, financial management, protection of children and fundraising.    The Code protects both the beneficiaries of development work and donors to projects, as it ensure best practice and accountability.

This year CUFA’s Deputy CEO, Rebecca MacFarling, is honoured to sit on the Code of Conduct Committee, working to enforce high standards of international development and transparency. The Code Committee is comprised of ten members, both elected and specialist appointments.  It is charged with developing and administering the code, and promotion and education. In 2016 the Code was updated and its scope widened, and the focus is now education and implementation of the new Code.

CUFA at a Glance

  • 88.5% of CUFA’s expenditure goes directly to its programs. 7.4% goes to fundraising and 4.1% to administration.
  • For every dollar invested in CUFA’s programs, $8.07 of social return on investment is generated.
  • More than 45 years’ experience working across the Asia Pacific.
  • Signatory to the Australian Council for International Development’s Code of Conduct.
  • Accredited by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade through the Australian Aid program.
  • Winners in the NSW Business Chamber Awards in Business Ethics and Small Business categories, 2016.
  • Finalists in the Telstra Business Awards, Charity Category, 2016.

How can you be involved?
There are many ways to partner with CUFA to make a lasting difference in our region:

  • Through an annual investment in our work
  • By participating in a Challenge program
  • By supporting a Village Entrepreneur
  • By joining the Investors’ Circle as an individual
  • Through workplace giving

If you would like to discuss a partnership with CUFA, please get in touch with Deputy CEO, Rebecca MacFarling, at rebecca.macfarling@cufa.org.au or on 1300 490 467.

The rural streets

Reflections from our Volunteers: Making a difference in the world & what that means

Making a difference in the world & what that means

 - By Jamie Lee, University of Sydney student and participant in CUFA’s Community Placement Program 2016.

“You will make a difference in the world!”

“You will change people’s lives!”

“What incredible work you are doing for those communities!”

As I told people I would be heading to Cambodia for 4 weeks to work and study as a CUFA intern, these are the common responses I received.

People who knew me previously had at least some vague idea about my passion and dedication to volunteer as a social worker regardless of location. Hence, I was very thrilled during my engagement with CUFA – through the process of application, booking flights and so on. Despite endless ‘things-to-do’ when preparing for the trip, it was something that persisted me through the stressful examination period. Meanwhile, as an eager volunteering intern myself, my mind began to build unrealistic expectations about the potential result I could bring to the country without even truly knowing what I would witness and experience through my experience with CUFA in Cambodia.

I think it is fair to say I was overly confident about the role I would undertake within the organisation during such a short period of time. For me, this whole idea about ‘making a difference in the world’ was about bringing equality and abundance to villagers, finding the ultimate solution to avoid poverty, giving external views about the world by sharing knowledge from the university and personal experiences. However, it did not take that long for me to realise that one person does not solve the problems of poverty by flying in for a month.

The rural side of Cambodia as it is a very different environment compared to Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. The countryside was beautiful, and I constantly found myself mesmerised by the breathtaking view of endless rice fields, sandy unpaved roads with constant traffic caused by cows and water buffaloes. There were also ordinary cars on the streets, which you can only tell if it is a taxi when they stop for passengers (there was not a single sign) and traditional Khmer houses (two-storey buildings where the basic structure is a wooden frame and bottom part is used during the day which essentially acts as a roof). To be honest, it was the most underdeveloped place I have ever been in my life. But the fact was that it was an incredibly rural area, and had been almost completely isolated from the rest of the world. Even the harvesting of rice was all done by hand.

Along with my fellow interns, my role was to support the local credit union through CUFA’s Credit Union Development program. This system is essential for local villagers who are unable to access more formal institutions, due to lack of income, geographical isolation and lack of credible identification. I found myself unfamiliar with the environment and lives of villagers.

Due to this, the other interns and I took even more responsibility and had the privilege to be involved from the initial stage of work – figuring out the purpose of our journey and inventing projects and solutions.  We were the first ever participants on CUFA’s University of Sydney internship program and I realise our privileged position.

Overall, the program I was most impressed with was not that the farmers and small sellers in the community were using the accounting systems, it was also not seeing local banks increasing the community participation rate by 200%, nor was it seeing the increased savings capacity through the Kids Saving Account. Before the trip, as a person wondering what kind of long lasting impact of change I would be able to make, these outcomes are what I would have desired to see. But, I saw myself becoming stronger, not only physically, but also psychologically. This enabled me to personalise the overall purpose of this trip. There may not be any profound and measurable change that I myself directly made, but I noticed a deeply personal one.

This was achieved not only through the work I did with local CUFA staff, but also through hearing their stories and witnessing the history, politics, living culture and education practices in Cambodia. By completely blending into their everyday activities, from three meals of local Khmer food (my favourite breakfast was beef noodle soup, called Kuy teav), shopping in markets where bargaining skills are essential, and being surrounded by a foreign language, taught me the great lesson of widening my perspective. It was such an awakening experience, which made me realise how little I knew about the world. If somebody ever asks me to summarise this experience in one sentence, I would say this: It was the most unforgettable and valuable life-changing experience, which I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone who is willing to stretch and challenge the way you perceive yourself and the world.



I hope you enjoy the few photos below from my time in Cambodia.

- Jamie Lee


Will you rise to the Challenge?

CUFA is extending a unique opportunity to teachers and education professionals to join our Cycle Cambodia adventure holiday challenge this April 17-22, and to help raise funds and awareness in support of our poverty combating work across the Asia-Pacific region.

Not a teacher? No worries! You can register for our June open challenge HERE.

With an emphasis on participating in the delivery of CUFA’s Children’s Financial Literacy program in Cambodia’s classrooms, this physical adventure challenge is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for education professionals to become involved with CUFA’s international development work first-hand, as well as experience the amazing culture, people, food and scenery of Cambodia.

The April tour coincides with school holidays and participants complete a 6-day cross-country cycle challenge in Siem Reap, the home of the historic Angkor Wat, as well as volunteering in CUFA’s project work in primary schools in provinces across Cambodia. It is the opportunity to witness education and schooling in a vibrant and emerging economy.

‘At CUFA, we operate on the foundation of our core values of passion, integrity, collaboration and innovation – values I believe to have a natural synergy with the education community. These shared values are applied directly in our Children’s Financial Literacy program, as well as in our other poverty-combating initiatives across the Asia-Pacific. In 2017, we hope to welcome as many members of the education community as possible to join us in our mission to alleviate poverty in a lasting and meaningful way.’ – Rebecca MacFarling, Deputy CEO, CUFA

CUFA staff and previous challengers with Cambodian Children’s Financial Literacy program participants.

 ‘I experienced the most exciting and thought provoking trip to Cambodia. I can’t praise the CUFA Cambodia staff enough. Their commitment to the Cambodian children with the literacy program and support for the Village Entrepreneurs is truly commendable. The support provided to all of us on our challenge was outstanding and I can not praise the CUFA staff enough.’ - Ally Bruhn, 2015 CUFA Challenger

Registrations for CUFA’s Teacher’s Cycle Cambodia challenge this April close Friday 3rd Feb. Find out more and register your interest HERE.



Village Entrepreneur family

How your Christmas gift to CUFA can change someone’s life

You can give one final gift this Christmas that really will keep on giving. 

By donating $25 today, this is how you can transform someone’s life…

26 year old Sreyorn, was too poor to send her children to school or even put food on the table. As a young mother in rural Cambodia, Sreyorn worked hard on her small chicken and vegetable farm to earn less than $1.00 a day to support her husband and two children. This meant Sreyorn’s family sometimes skipped meals, her children were at risk of not finishing primary school, and no one in her family had access to medical services, even when her children were sick. 

Since participating in one of CUFA’s hands-on financial programs just one year ago, Sreyorn’s life has changed dramatically. She has learnt skills on how to manage her money at home and in her business, has been able to access a loan to expand her micro-business, and begun to save for the future and lift herself and her family out of poverty for good. Sreyorn and her children now imagine a different, brighter future for themselves.

With the money Sreyorn now has access to, she has been able to install solar panels for light and electricity in her small home. This means her children can now study at night, and Sreyorn can weave baskets for extra income. She is also able to afford good food for her family every day.

Making a Christmas donation to CUFA will give deserving people like Sreyorn a chance to break-out of poverty by providing them with a safe place to save their money and take out loans, helping them to create a brighter future.

Every single dollar you donate makes a difference and is greatly appreciated. Please be awesome and donate what you can today to support the CUFA International Projects Fund.


Ratha Ra in the field in Cambodia collecting data on the Credit Union Development project.

News from the Field: Cambodia’s rural unbanked build new savings groups

Ratha Ra is CUFA’s International Project Liaison Officer.  In November, Ratha spent time in the field collecting data on the Credit Union Development project in Cambodia.

CUFA’s Credit Union Development Project is run in Cambodia, Myanmar and Timor-Leste.  It works to develop community-owned financial services in poor, rural places where people are “unbanked” and without a safe place to save their money.  Fundamentally, CUFA believes that fighting poverty starts with enabling people to save money.

CUFA Cambodia is currently providing support to communities in four provinces, Kampong Cham, Tbong Khmum, Stung Treng and Ratanakiri.  These are all rural areas that have previously had no exposure or access to financial services at even the most basic level.

In my new role as CUFA’s International Project Liaison Officer, I travelled to these communities to collect data and information to help CUFA evaluate the program and better understand both impact and where we can do more.

I was excited about this opportunity – the chance to talk directly to people whose lives we are trying to assist is special as it can help direct decisions about the projects and make improvements.

I visited three key communities.  My first visit was to a community about 40km from main street of Memot district.  The majority people in the area work in agriculture – mostly rubber, pepper and cassava.  I also went to Stung Treng where the majority of people are migrants from Laos and speak Laotian.  They typically work in the rice fields and as forestry workers in the nearby mountains.   In Ratanakiri, the communities are comprised of indigenous Cambodians who also work in agriculture.  This project location is extremely remote and the roads are difficult and dusty.

In each community, I spoke to the savings group members, committees, community chiefs and authorities, and people with disabilities.  What I found was consistent across all three areas.


The data I collected suggested some important impacts on communities.  Overwhelmingly,

  • Members understand the importance of saving for the future.
  • Members have increased their individual savings, enabling their money to be loaned to other members.
  • Members feel their money is safe and that they trust their fellow members.
  • Members can access loans at low interest rates quickly.
  • Members have improved their financial literacy and family budgeting skills.


  • Some of the local savings groups don’t yet have enough capital to provide loans for the members, which has led to a handful of dissatisfied members.
  • In some communities, villages think that saving money at home is safer than depositing it in a credit union.
  • In some communities, rates of illiteracy and lack of numeracy have caused challenges for member training.

I am proud of the work that CUFA’s project officers and field staff, led by coordinator Mr Sokhdom Nong, have been able to do in remote communities.  He and the team will work to address the challenges and community concerns over the next year through additional and specific training.

The data collection process was one the most eye-opening and exciting experiences of my new job so far.  It is satisfying to see that  through financial literacy and access to safe banking we can tackle poverty directly.

Ratha Ra in Cambodia with Credit Union Development project participants.

Ratha Ra in Cambodia with local Credit Union members.

Dr Peter Mason on site in Bougainville, August 2016

Message from the CEO

As the end of the year approaches, it gives me the perfect opportunity to reflect on the work of CUFA’s team across 2016. The effort to combat poverty sometimes seems insurmountable, but I can honestly say, that I have seen firsthand how CUFA’s work makes a difference.

Our most significant success this year was the first-year roll-out of Youth Pathways for the Future project in Bougainville.  In 2015/2016, the project worked with 2,016 young people aged between 15 and 25 years to improve financial literacy, enterprise and employment opportunities. So far we have seen 111 young people undertake an apprenticeship, and 109 young people open their own business. Results are showing massive and positive impacts on the communities. There is more work to be done in our second year in Bougainville.

Thanks to support from organisations such as Teachers Mutual Bank and CPA Australia, Children’s Financial Literacy program in Cambodia continues to create meaningful impact for poor rural children and their families.  CUFA has not only extended its reach, but has been able to achieve its most striking innovation.  Last year, we launched the Count4Kids digital app which introduces technology into the Children’s Financial Literacy program in Cambodia. Children in the rural poor areas of Cambodia rarely have access to technology, and often not electricity, but our unique program provides lifelong skills in financial literacy and now exposure to technology.  We are looking to launch the Children’s Financial Literacy program in Myanmar, please contact me if you’d like to support the new program.

CUFA strengthened its ties with the Asian Development Bank this year, partnering on a new program Strengthening Resettlement and Income Restoration Implementation to increase financial well-being, reduce indebtedness and improve financial literacy in displaced communities in Cambodia.  The team in Cambodia has now started an employment placement and social enterprise program for these communities, and we are excited about the project rollout over the next 18 months.

CUFA’s work in Myanmar has grown over the last year, thanks to a partnership with Action on Poverty.  With their support, we have trialled a women’s economic empowerment program, developing three village savings groups in remote Taik Kyi province.  While these groups are still in the early stages of development, the women in the region are building a strong financial future for themselves and their families.

CUFA has also launched its flagship micro-enterprise program, the Village Entrepreneur in Myanmar, which aims to support small business owners to sustainability.  Through a three-year program of training, mentoring and business investment, individuals develop micro-enterprises which lift themselves and their families out of poverty.  We continue to search for community investors to support the new Village Entrepreneurs.  If you’d like to make a difference with a monthly donation of $39 for three years, please visit ve.org.au.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our donors: the individual community investors, our corporate partners, mutual banking partners and institutional funders.  We couldn’t do this work without you.  Thank you for your support.

My thanks also go to CUFA’s board of directors – Margot, Peter, Roseanne, Madeline, Hermine (to whom we said farewell this year), and incoming directors Aleks and Stephanie.  The board works tirelessly to support the organisation and I look forward to working with them again next year.

I would also like to acknowledge and congratulate the CUFA staff who are tirelessly dedicated to our mission to combat poverty in the Asia-Pacific region.

On behalf of everyone at CUFA, I wish you a happy and prosperous 2017.

- Dr Peter Mason, CEO

Yes, I'd like to give a gift