By Alison Darcy
As Kaye Wetlzer stepped out from the airport into Cambodia’s bustling capital Phnom Penh, the first thing that struck her was not the smothering heat, but the traffic.
There as a skilled volunteer for CUFA, Kaye was immediately swept into the flurry of cars, motorbikes and tuk tuks that define Phnom Penh’s streetscape.
“The first thing that caught my attention on landing in Cambodia, like most Asian countries, was the traffic….When you actually got onto a piece of road that allowed you to drive at the speed limit, the centre of the road seemed to be highly favoured” she jokes.
Her trip took her to the Takeo, Prey Veng, Kampong Chhang and Svay Reang provinces in rural Cambodia where she would spend the next two weeks working alongside the Cambodian Association of Co-operatives (CAC), a Cambodian federation that CUFA has worked in collaboration and cooperation with for many years.
Kaye conducted an assessment on their governance and administration structures following CAC successfully securing a loan fund from the Rabobank Foundation.
“These funds are to be lent to the community owned financial institutions to be, in turn, made available to the community farmers,” explains Kaye.
“A loan for US $20 could, for example, purchase a piglet. Once grown, this pig could fetch up to US $200. With this sort of profit there is obviously an improved future for the borrower.”
Kaye hopes that with continued training and assistance from CUFA, the community owned financial institutions will grow in their capacity and be able to provide the opportunity for many more people to access loans.
Kaye’s passion is palpable and her fondness for the Cambodian way of life and Cambodian people is obvious when asked to reflect on her favourite part of the trip.
“That would have to be visiting the little village credit unions and meeting the people who are trying so hard to improve their lifestyles and those of the fellow villagers – with the chickens pecking around our feet – the geese noisily running for their feed – and the rooster proudly prancing around the yard. All the people I dealt with were beautiful, especially the young people of CUFA Cambodia who took care of me like I was their own mother”.
Although no stranger to the developing community owned financial institution movement, having previously assisted CUFA in Vanuatu and the Cook Islands, the visit provided Kaye with the opportunity to reflect on the differences between the Australian and Cambodian movements.
“The Cambodian community owned financial institution movement is like a newborn baby that is beginning to discover its potential” Kaye observed. “The enthusiasm is contagious even though each individual institution is at varying levels of sophistication and ability; some quite well advanced, others still emerging. Australia, on the other hand, is at a point of having to maintain the mutual philosophy and meet the ever-increasing demands of a far more sophisticated membership”.
While the emerging Cambodian movement is a far cry from the more sophisticated and developed movement of Australia, she firmly believes that movements like Cambodia’s have a lot to offer Australians.
“I believe that if more of us here in Australia were to have the opportunity to experience what is happening not only in Cambodia, but in places like Timor-Leste and Sri Lanka, where community owned financial institutions are developing their people to improve their lives, the more we, in Australia, will be better able to keep our eye on the ball.”
Kaye’s advice to anyone else offered this opportunity is to grab it – no matter how daunted you may be by the prospect. Believe in yourself and in the philosophy of people helping people and cautions, “one thing though, don’t think you are there to teach – you are there to learn!”
“I would like to say thank you to CUFA for giving me the opportunity to experience something that will live with me from now on”.
Kaye Wetzler began her 40+ year career in the credit union movement in October 1972 at Merriville Credit Union. Although now retired, Kaye continues to play a pivotal role in Australia’s mutual movement, serving as Deputy Chair on the Insight committee, member of the Board of Trustees of the Australian Credit Union Archives as well as a regular keynote speaker at Insight events.