Irene Narayan: My Eye-Opening Trip to Cambodia

By Irene Narayan of SCU, winner of the TWSG Harry Zaphir 2015 scholarship.

My journey began well before I landed in Cambodia. It began when I, the SCU team and friends came together over a span of nine months and worked hard in raising funds for this great cause.

To actually meet the entrepreneurs who would be receiving support was a great motivator for me. I kept imagining how happy they would be and the difference it would make to their lives. What was so amazing for me was the support I received from all around me: friends, co-workers and people who were curious as to what my fundraising was all about, and were so generous and helpful.

I took great pride in explaining what it was about to people who were not aware of the great works CUFA was doing in these countries. They were always commenting on how great the concept of ‘helping people lift themselves out of poverty’ was. I now take even greater pride in speaking about my trip and experience in Cambodia.

It’s 7pm – and it’s hot

When I finally arrived in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh the weather was hot. Extremely hot – in fact, a heat I had never experienced before. And it was just 7pm.

On the first day I travelled 1.5 hours to meet Ms Sokhean Sun, a vegetable farmer, and Ms Sreyneang Van, a chicken raiser and a fish farmer. I remember being really taken back by the homes the villagers lived in, built on wooden stilts a few metres high. The home was one large open space with no actual rooms, and under the home was a raised wooden floor which was used as the dining area, kitchen and living area. There were 3 large clay pots to the side of the house where their water supply was kept, collected from the last rainfall – meaning there was no running water.

The entrepreneurs were so kind and welcoming, and I learned a lot about what they wanted to achieve for themselves, setbacks they faced, and how CUFA had helped them and their business.

Mrs Sreyneang Van has now completed her first year in Village Entrepreneur training. She first learned chicken farming from her parents, so she always sought to have her own business. But it was an uphill battle at first: her chickens would roam around the village, some would get lost and many would get infected by disease and die. This meant a lot of money would go to waste and she would barely make enough to feed her family.

However, through the Village Entrepreneur training she received from CUFA, she soon learned how to build an effective chicken enclosure to contain the chickens in one area, which meant less chance of them contracting diseases. She was also excited that the Village Entrepreneur training taught her how to vaccinate her chickens.

By the end of the program in year three she hopes to have learned enough to expand her business and build an even larger chicken coop.

Hairdressers, Wholesalers and Basket Makers – and the woman who built a well

Throughout the course of my trip I met many more CUFA Village Entrepreneurs in the neighbouring provinces of Kampong Chang, Tboung Khmoum, Stung Trang and Takeo, including a Hair Dresser, Flat Basket Maker, Vegetable and Grocery wholesalers and Pig Raisers, and learnt a lot about what they were able to achieve as a result of the VE Sponsorships. A highlight for me was meeting Ms Chanthy Hang, a Pig Raiser who was able to build a well for herself and family with the extra income she was making.

Many do not know how to read

Another highlight was the quarterly Business Progress Workshop run by CUFA. It was so great to see how eager the Village Entrepreneurs were to learn further farming practices, and how much they appreciated the knowledge being passed on to them.

Because a lot of the Entrepreneurs never had the opportunity to be educated as children, many do not know how to read. CUFA Staff delivered the workshop through demonstration, video and images, ensuring all the Village Entrepreneurs could understand the material being delivered in a very practical way.

A holistic approach to helping communities

I was impressed to see that Business Owners were not the only ones benefiting from CUFA’s presence in the community, and that a more holistic approach was being taken to assist the community break out of poverty.

CUFA run Children’s Financial Literacy Programs across many schools in rural areas which aim to teach children at a young age about the benefits of saving, budgeting and the basics of banking. I was so lucky to observe these classes in action across two schools – Oudomsorya Primary School and Lo Peang Primary School.

It was so lovely to see how excited the children were to learn about banking; they were soaking up everything that was being taught to them.

Irene story CFL children

Racing to answer first: smart students from one of CUFA’s Children’s Financial Literacy classes tackle a question on budgeting.

Many schools in Cambodia are run in shifts – morning and afternoon. Siblings would either attend morning or afternoon while the other child helps their parents in the farms. It was a real eye opener to see how hard working these children were at a very young age.

On the last two days of my stay in Cambodia, I met two Credit Union committees that were formed by CUFA, both created for farmers. It was interesting to see what their hurdles were in growing their member base, compared to what we experience here in Australia.

A new concept

In Cambodia the concept of storing their life savings with a financial Institution is a new – and quite frightening – concept to many of the villagers. But it was promising to hear that these issues were slowly but surely being overcome, as villagers were able to see firsthand the positives the credit union was bringing to the members in the form of loans and being able to purchase better farming equipment.

At the close of my trip, and reflecting back on the week I had spent in Cambodia, I can honestly say it was an experience of a lifetime.

To say it was an ‘eye opening experience’ and that ‘I now appreciate everything I have a lot more’ sounds quite cheesy, yet this is exactly how I feel.

What we consider ‘small change’ when donating is literally life changing to the inspiring people I met on my journey in Cambodia – and I could not thank CUFA and TSWG enough, because with their support I was lucky enough to see this with my very own eyes.

Something as basic as running water makes a world of difference in the lives of these people and this experience gave me more understanding of the difference CUFA were making to the lives of the poor. I am proud to support this great organization.

The Harry Zaphir Scholarship is sponsored by TWSG in partnership with CUFA, and is awarded to an emerging leader in the credit union movement. Dedicated in memory of Harry Zaphir, it honours his wish to foster the talent of ‘bright young things’, giving them the chance to develop their talents and grow and share their skills by engaging with CUFA’s projects. Once again, our grateful thanks to TWSG for their ongoing support.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained

If you – or someone you know – have got what it takes to be an ambassador for CUFA, it’s time to start working on your submission! Click here now for further information.


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