The impact from Covid-19 to the Cambodian economy is evident, the road leading the nation’s capital remains quiet these days. Like many in Australia in 2020, Sreypov has been working from home but has been having a different experience to the rest of us. Her clothing shop, which she operates out from the front of her house, gives her the opportunity to tackle the housework whilst supporting her family financially. Before joining the Village Entrepreneur Program, Sreypov struggled to provide enough food for her family, needing to borrow from a private lender to send her children to school. After talking it over with a community member in the local government, Sreypov decided to join the Village Entrepreneur Program.
Over the year since joining the Village Entrepreneur Program, Sreypov has seen her daily income double, meaning she can send her children to school and provide them the nutrition they need to excel in life. She has already expanded her selection of clothing sold and is already looking to acquire a loan from her local credit union to increase the range even further.
The pandemic, however, has been felt in her community, and she has needed to adapt her marketing to suit a more de-generalised customer base. The customers who came on through the trucks have all but dried up, but Sreypov is not phased. Her years training and relationship with the local credit union has meant that she has saved up enough to offset the losses.
On Boxing Day in 2004, a devastating Tsunami impacted the coasts of South Asia, Indonesia and East Africa. This disaster required international and domestic efforts to rebuild the affected areas. Following the immediate recovery period, Cufa worked in Sri Lanka to reconstruct and rebuild local credit unions. The Tsunami had enacted a devastating toll on the local credit unions, with over 200 destroyed in Sri Lanka.
In 2006, Cufa worked with the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) to undertake the project, welcoming the expertise and funding Cufa brought to the project. WOCCU responded rapidly to the disaster, having an extensive history in Sri Lanka, conducting a wide-ranging consultation process with communities impacted by the disaster. By doing so, a plan was developed to rehabilitate and rebuild the credit unions. As part of this plan, Cufa conducted a monitoring visit, interviewing project beneficiaries across Sri Lanka.
Cufa saw an enthusiastic comeback by the credit unions, with the credit union in Kosgoda seeing a 50% increase in membership. Their assets increased totalling R 2.6 million, up from R 1.6 million before the Tsunami. Cufa also assisted in the reopening of eight credit unions
Chesa finishes up on the final touches of packaging her products in the early morning sun, ready for the day’s markets. Chesa lives with her husband and two children close to the city, but due to poor roads and public transportation, it’s a difficult commute. Because of this, it results in lower education levels in her area. Cufa’s arrival in the area allowed Chesa and her neighbours to study financial literacy and start up their own Village Savings Bank. This gave her community access to credit and various types of loan with training sessions provided alongside.
Before Cufa’s arrival, her lack of financial knowledge had meant that she did not have enough income to fully support her family. By attending Cufa’s training session, Chesa’s family now regularly saves. Through a loan from her local village savings banks, she has grown her small agriculture farming business and expanded into livestock farming.
By working with Cufa, Chesa’s community has been able to cement a foundation of financial inclusion, allowing the community’s youngest the opportunity to grow up involved in financial literacy.
Before 2017, Chanlina lived a tough life, as she struggled to make ends meet, working odd jobs in cashew and rubber plantations. Chanlina looked for advice with a local village elder, who pointed her towards a village savings bank (VSB) that worked with Cufa. When she joined up, Cufa worked with her and others in her village to develop their entrepreneurial and financial management skills, opening her up to the importance of saving.
Now she has been able to set up a micro-enterprise as a grocer in the local market, borrowing money from her VSB to buy her business’s initial expenses. After several successful years, she now generates around USD 300 monthly. She is now committed to saving, putting away $24 USD each month for budgeting or her husband’s treatment.,
For Chanlina, her microenterprise and the support from her village savings bank means she has been able to create stability in her and her family’s life. It has freed her from being constantly worried about her next payment and allowed her to plan for the future.
“I would like to thank Cufa for supporting and training my village savings bank and teaching me the fundamentals to set up my microenterprise. The money my village savings bank saves together is not only to support myself, but it’s there to make everyone in the community prosperous. I am very to be a member of this group” – Chanlina.
For us here at Cufa, 2020 was a year of adaption and success in the face of adversity. In February, much like the rest of the world, Cufa’s work was greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Cambodia, our Project Officers were quick to adapt to a rapidly changing and unpredictable global environment.
According to DFAT in October, Cambodia has managed to protect its citizen from the worst health impacts of COVID-19. Unfortunately, the pandemic has impacted Cambodia's most important economic sectors: garments, tourism, and construction. The World Bank estimated that before COVID-19, these sectors accounted for more than 70 per cent of the country’s GDP annual growth. Cambodia is at risk of re-entrenching intergenerational poverty due to the economic shocks and the high rates of indebtedness caused by microfinance institutions.
When schools closed in March, we rapidly adapted our Children’s Financial Literacy Program to be safely delivered to children in their homes. We turned to conduct home visits, with 808 home visits conducted, ensuring that the financial literacy classes could continue. This allowed for the opportunity to further engage families in financial education and encouraging parents to motivate their children.
Community members in Kampong Cham alerted Cufa to the demands for greater access to soap and washing powder. In response, Cufa pivoted the first stream of the Recycling Plastics Livelihoods Project for the community social enterprises to instead produce liquid hand soap. The adapted COVID-19 Livelihoods Response Program has facilitated community social enterprises, of which 67% of members are women, to produce and sell 2,940 litres of liquid hand soap. CSEs have made a total profit of USD 1,038.35.
As 2021 marks Cufa's 50th year of work, Cufa looks forward to continuing to work with rural communities, Cufa-supported credit unions and schools to continue and expand its footprint.
Before 2020, the small village that Mr Kim Yhen is from, much like the rest of Cambodia, seeing a modest increase in living standards. An increase in education and skills in the community had allowed for the growth of good jobs in the area. Kim was seeing that ambition and enthusiasm in the classes he was teaching, with children who were excited to learn. Now the school yard, once filled with kids of all ages playing ball games or tag, lies empty, a common story for schools in Australia only a few months ago. For Mr. Kim, a schoolteacher, that meant he was out of work. Mr. Kim would traditionally rely on his second form of income, cashew farming, but as this article in the Khmer Times points out, prices have plummeted recently, brought on by border restrictions and reduction in global demand.
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Without any form of income, the situation became dire for Kim. Mr. Po Sophea, a Cufa Staff member who is on the project staff involved in Cufa’s FLIP 19 soap making workshops, was looking for members to join the social enterprises. Kim, not one to pass on a golden opportunity, decided to join one of the social enterprises, named the House Wife Production Group. Kim, as a teacher, knew the importance of learning and so participated actively in all the workshops the Cufa conducted, including the soap making, general business management and accounting skills training programs.
He has been participating as part of his social enterprise, which has seen a profit of USD $ 315.25 total, with the most recent profit reported being $128.75, the second highest out of the 5 community enterprises that Cufa is working with for that month. Kim and his community enterprise are currently continuing to search the market to grow their income, confident that the growing awareness and demand for sanitary products caused by Covid-19 will bring greater income.
As we struggle with the effects of Covid 19 in Australia, and how it has affected Australian businesses, big and small, it is important to remember that it’s also affecting places around the world in different, and more difficult ways. Prior to the effects of Covid 19, the Cambodian economy was experiencing a boom, thanks to a growth in the garment industry and Cambodians going abroad and sending remittances back home. Though conditions were difficult, it did provide steadily growing incomes. This continued growth relied on a global consumer market and the ability to travel overseas. As you might be aware, as of September 2020, this is not the case. The effects of Covid 19, which has forced millions of foreign workers to return home and factories to close their doors due to the fears of spreading Covid-19, has posed significant challenges to the lives of those in Cambodia. This has had repercussions across the country, impacting the prices of goods, causing shortages of food and fuel, and forcing people to return home jobless.
Bopha, pictured above, is filling up jerry cans with soap that she and the community social enterprise that she is a part of, had just produced. Any other day, she would be in the local rubber plantation, but due to the effects of Covid-19, she has seen a significant decline in her income. Compounding that, outbreaks of Covid-19 have occurred in her area dissuading suppliers from entering her area, increasing the prices of most staple goods. Hearing that Cufa had begun conducting our soap workshops in the area, she decided to join up.
Our workshops allowed her to take part in an ongoing training program that taught her leadership skills, micro and small community enterprise skills, business management, bookkeeping and financial literacy. This allowed her, and villagers like her to diversify their income streams through the production of liquid soap, which they can sell individually or to on-sellers. This gives the participants, like Bopha the knowledge and opportunity to empower themselves.
As Bopha is helping load the soap into individual plastic bottles, onto the back of a scooter owned by another social enterprise worker. She tells us that she feels like it’s brighter now that she has been able to join the social enterprise, feeling like she has been able to see change for herself.
In the brief sunny days between the rains of the monsoon, our staff are welcomed indoors by Akara’s family. While Akara, currently engrossed in her schoolwork, sits with her brother, our staff had a chance to speak with her mother. She says before being a part of the CFL program, Akara would just ask her or her grandmother to buy something, and there was no concept of saving because to Akara, it was just such a small amount.
After receiving the financial literacy training from Cufa, Akara quickly took up saving money. She started saving 200 riels a day (Just over 5 cents), and with consistent discipline and a bit of extra savings on the side, she was able to save 30,000 riels. With this amount, Akara was able to buy new clothes.
With Akara having finished her schoolwork, our project officer conducts their home visit. Our project officer reports that now she is trying to save 500 riels a day, which she hopes to put to more clothes.
Cufa has partnered with other Australian NGO’s to help End Covid For All. Led by ACFID, the group involves Australian NGO’s such as World Vision, TEAR, Fred Hollows and Habitat for Humanity, and over 90 other organisations from Australia.
In Australia we are still experiencing the effects of Covid-19, and there is significant work to be done in Australia to further reduce the spread. Though Australia has the capacity to prevent the spread, reduce the impact on families, many countries in the world are not so lucky.
In India cases continue to grow, at over 1.5 million cases; in our northern neighbour in Indonesia, cases have risen to over 100,000. Increasingly it is the poorest countries in the world that are feeling the strongest effects of Covid-19. End Covid- for- All aims to help the poorest countries through three simple steps.
Firstly, End Covid For All aims to combat Covid in the existing crisis areas, which have previously experienced other pandemics before, including malaria, Ebola and polio. By equitable funding and investment in global health programs, we can help prevent further disease outbreaks.
Additionally, a robust response to Covid-19 will require a provision of testing kits, PPE, information campaigns and medical equipment. Vulnerable and marginalized groups, who include women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities, are of particular concern, as the health response must be made inclusive and accessible to them. At the same time, we must continue to support existing programs, such as water projects, maternal and child health, sexual and reproductive health.
Finally, there will be the need to help kickstart the economy safely and sustainably in the Pacific. Safe resumption of regional economic ties between the Pacific and Australia, and the provision of low-cost loans for the Pacific to provide vital health infrastructure is key to kickstarting economic recovery.
The local children play in the puddles between the deluge, enjoying the small amount of peace between the monsoon rains. Botum Hon Sok Nhem, the head of the small Samaki Soap Community watches from under her house's awning. The Samaki Soap Community, which her and 5 other women and a man run, has seen a success as a part of the Family Livelihoods Improvement Project in response to Covid-19 (or FLIP 19 for short). Having been able to generate over $210.50 for their Social Enterprise so far, they have also had the opportunity to attend Sale and Marketing; Bookkeeping Training and Education on Covid-19 provided by Cufa.
Alongside Samaki Soap Community, other Community Led Social Enterprises participating in the FLIP-19 program have been able to raise 607.00 USD in total as of July. This was done by producing 2,544 litres of soap to sell to their local communities. Cufa will provide further training in soap production, and we hope that they will continue to be able supplement their regular income.
Houen Nut, sits inside her sons home, looking on as the rains begin again. She explains how, as a widow, she has been supported by her daughters as she looks after her youngest son. Due to the pandemic she says, “it has affected my monthly income because my daughters have reduced their support for me”. Introduced to the program, she was eager to take it up for her, as she hopes that it will allow her to supplement her income, and hopefully turn it into a business of her own.
Older than most of her other co-workers in her micro enterprise, she reflects how worried she was at the beginning. “ I am always worried and thought I was getting too old and illiterate, maybe I wouldn’t sell as much soap”, continuing she says “But, after I had attended many training sessions organised by Cufa, and the encouragement of my team members, I was able to do it”. She says she hopes to help her youngest son to learn about soap production, so that he can keep the soap business sustainable.
As the Monsoon rains continue, soap production will hopefully continue to be a viable business solution for the micro-enterprises we have worked with.