As we struggle with the effects of Covid 19 in Australia, and how it has ffected 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.
Nhem Sokhon, 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 Nhem the knowledge and opportunity to empower themselves.
As Nhem 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.
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.
Published Yesterday, Waking the Asian Pacific Cooperative Potential is an academic look into how mutual firms and credit unions have had meaningful change in the Asia Pacific Region. Cufa's CEO, Dr Peter Mason, has contributed an insightful piece on the history of our long term partner organisation, Teachers Mutual Bank.
Dr.Mason’s look takes us through the beginning of the Credit Union movement following the end of the second World War, one of these was the Hornsby Teachers Credit Union, which began in the early 1960’s. Their growth started due to ‘local financial institutions not meeting the needs of the community, due to not only access, but the types of financial products that these institutions offer, perceived unaffordability of interest rates, or financial products that do not meet social needs.’. As they developed, they held a core philosophy of ‘teachers helping teachers’, and their early days reflected that, the early members beginning by recruiting new members during their lunch breaks. The Hornsby Teachers Credit Union became the NSW Teachers Credit Union in 1967, and thanks to automatic payroll deductions, they grew rapidly.
The NSW Teachers Credit Union was one of many credit unions during the height of the 70s, at their peak numbering 833 in total. These credit unions pioneered the first 24 hour Automatic Telling Machines in Australia, and continued to grow into the 80s, and by 1991 they had grown to over 64,000 members and provided over $1 billion dollars in loans to their members.
The book takes an analytical approach to the Asian Co-operative Model, as well as Agricultural Co-operatives, Credit Co-operatives and Worker Co-operatives. Though not written as a coffee table book, it definitely is a book to keep your eye out for if you are keen to understand the intricate and rich history of the Asia-Pacific Co-operative environment.
“We want to supply our soap to all districts in Kampong Cham” pointing to the slowly churning barrel of citrus colored soap, Mony described what her microenterprises next stage was. The workshop was abuzz, people alternating between observing and having a go at the different stages of soap production. Several micro-enterprises, all composed of members from different communities, answered the request to attend the workshop. Each village formed their own microenterprise, Mony helped set up the Rung Roeung Soap Community.
For many in their area, the dominant industry of cashew nuts and rubber plantations have come to a halt as ability to export has dropped greatly, leaving many unemployed. In an effort to assist in alleviating rising unemployment, Cufa initiated the program to provide economic opportunities for these communities.
As the workshop is being packed up, Mony asks our project officers to provide further training on other types of soap production, to expand their product line up. Members from the Housewife Soap Community, discuss their plans to expand production as they load crates of their soap, now in recycled plastic water bottles, onto the back of trucks. Though the government has announced a social support program to people who have become unemployed from the pandemic, the limited amount of just 60% of the minimum wage (USD $190 a month) is being received by workers as not enough(David Hutt, 2020). For this reason, we aim to create microenterprises meeting a demand.
Though the cashew and rubber plantations may be quiet for the time being, there is a renewed activity in the community, as a rekindled sense of hope is sparked with this opportunity.
David Hutt, 2020, The Diplomat, ‘Does Cambodia’s Coronavirus Bailout Really Add Up?’, visit here, Viewed on the 30/6/2020.
For those who sponsor our Village Entrepreneur Program, our program staff are hard at work keeping in contact with the entrepreneurs trying to ensure that they are getting the same quality assistance and training provided before the pandemic, delivered remotely. Our program staff are contacting the entrepreneurs over the phone to provide training and counselling to each individual entrepreneur and working with our volunteers in the village entrepreneur communities to monitor their progress.
Here, one of volunteers is counselling two village entrepreneurs, presenting them with handouts that our Cambodia office have developed to assist the entrepreneurs. On the phone of one of our volunteers they are viewing an instructional learning video made by Cufa, which we believe can continue to deliver our regular training.
Here, our village entrepreneur program officer is counselling a village entrepreneur regarding their micro-enterprise, providing further assistance and clarification regarding the videos supplied by Cufa. By contacting the entrepreneur independently, they can assist each entrepreneur to their needs. As the program officer reports, some entrepreneurs cannot read and the contains either need to be explained to them, or their children read it out for them.
Some Village Entrepreneurs are making the most of the situation however, as one of the program officers reports that “as borders are closed currently, so the domestic farming product prices have been increasing notably, and we advised the VEs to increase the supply of their products.” Our Village Entrepreneur Officer, states that “Though the Village Entrepreneurs are finding it difficult adapting to the Coronavirus, many are making the most of it".
The global impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been felt by many, and though in Australia the curve is flattening, and life is returning to some normalcy, the peak of the effects of the pandemic may not have yet been felt in developing countries around the world. Learn how Cufa is prioritizing its Covid-19 response to both help flatten the curve in Cambodia whilst also providing sustainable business opportunities.
The Covid-19 Crisis is a global crisis, affecting everyone, everywhere, and although it does not discriminate between race, gender, economic or soial status, the effects of the virus will especially impact those who are more financially disadvantaged. According to the World Bank, although now communities located in rural areas have a lesser risk of catching the disease, the resulting economic disruptions “are likely to be particularly damaging for the poor and vulnerable”.
In response to the current Covid-19 pandemic, Cufa has streamlined the commencement of the Family Livelihoods Improvement Project COVID-19 or FLIPC19. This project is comprised of a series of workshops that will provide training in the creation of a multi-purpose liquid soap. This project will support their communities’ efforts in slowing the spread of the Covid-19 and will also be used by the participants to start up small, sustainable businesses during and into the future.
Figure 1: Cufa seeks to replicate the successful workshops provided during the SRIRI Project
Cufa had previously conducted similar soap making workshops during its successful Strengthening Resettlement and Income Restoration Implementation (SRIRI) in Cambodia in partnership with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), where we successfully worked with communities displaced by the rehabilitation of a disused railway to find meaningful and sustainable business opportunities. The program, started in 2012, was one of Cufa’s most comprehensive programs, exercising Cufa’s expertise in developing employment, education and economic institutions. We achieved some amazing results in all our target areas, providing financial literacy and vocational training to the thousands of people, especially women.
The villages that the FLIPC-19 program will be conducted in were consulted early in April to identify the needs of the community. An overwhelming concern was that most of the community’s soap supplies were imported from neighboring countries and Phnom Penh, resulting in a shortage of supplies from increased demand due to the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving the community vulnerable and unable to properly protect itself. Following the consultation, we received strong interest in conducting these workshops, especially from women in the community. The empowerment of women through entrepreneurship has always been a priority for Cufa, and we are proud to work with such enthusiastic entrepreneurs.
Following the workshops, Cufa will provide on-going support and training to ensure that participants can grow their small business into a sustainable and profitable business. The project will also include a visit to a model enterprise where participants can see and discuss the elements of a successful business and the challenges which these entrepreneurs have faced. Cufa will also provide training in business development, leadership skills and financial literacy to complement the technical training our participants will receive.
Learn about what Cufa is doing to help slow the spread of Covid-19 and continue to deliver sustainable livelihoods by checking out our website.
Living as a farmer in rural Cambodia often means that locals need to work in multiple businesses to support their family. La Neang is a 39 year old Cambodian mother with 2 children. La is a rice farmer and her husband is working as local construction worker which earns them less than $0.50 per family member per a day to support their family. La has been participating in Cufa’s Village Entrepreneur program for over 2 years, farming chickens behind her house, and with the support of her Australian Community Investor (CI), her business has been able to gradually grow and develop as she has acquired and applied new skills through the program.
Before participating in the program, La was raising her chickens in a small area only partially fenced and suffered some issues which greatly impacted here ability to sustain her business. Some of the issues she faced included her chickens dying due to illness and chickens being stolen or taken by animals due to not being fully enclosed.
Once an Australian CI elected to support La, she was able to participate in the Village Entrepreneur program. The Cufa run program over the few years has taught her new skills and knowledge to improve her business and her earning capacity. This included how to look after her chickens with providing a strong fully fenced coop; making good quality feed and providing a clean water supply to prevent disease and loss. She has also learnt business skills including how
to attract more customers and compete with others in the marketplace. Through the program La has been able to develop her business and increase her chicken product range. La said “I am now happy that I am able to raise my chickens in a safe space surrounded by a secure, strong wire fence, keep my baby chicks healthier, and my production is increasing”. La has improved her breeding program and she is now raising about 70 chickens whereas previously it was only about 20 chickens. With the increase in her business profit, La said she has used it to afford to support her children education and family’s healthcare, purchase furniture and save $2.50 per month to ensure they have a better life in the future. To ensure the sustainability of her farm in the future, La has a plan to expand the farming areas and coop size, construct more special coops for baby chickens and learn more technical and business skills. “I and my family would like to say big thanks to my community investor for the kind support, without the support, my business would not be improved like this, and we hope that the business will more benefit as income for my family”, La added.
In the September issue of Cufa Voice we brought to you the launch of our new Recycling Plastics Livelihood Project in Cambodia south-west Sihanoukville Province. This project is designed to improve the livelihoods, economic and entrepreneurial opportunities for rural communities in the Sihanoukville Province with a strong focus on developing female entrepreneurs and
Chea Vanny is one community member in the province who is very interested in actively participating in this project.
Chea is 36 years old single mother of a 5-year-old boy, living with her parents in a village in the Sihanoukville province. Chea was widowed when her son was 6 months old. As a widow, Chea has had to focus on taking care of her young son and so she couldn’t work in the factory or casino like some of her neighbours. Her sister and parents currently support the cost of her son's education.? After Chea was introduced to our Recycling Plastics program, she was very interested and thought it would provide potential for her to generate an income so she did not have to rely on her family members for assistance. Chea said that not only would it provide a means of financial support for her and her son but she said “I want to learn how to recycle the plastic as today there is a lot of plastic everywhere along the public road and on the lake near my house”.
Project participants, like Chea, will learn how to use specialist machinery to recycle plastic waste so that it can be remodelled into items that can be sold. These technical skills will be enhanced with participants receiving business and financial skills training and support to enable them to establish a sustainable business with the added benefits of bringing the concept of recycling to rural communities, increasing awareness on how to manage plastic waste and more broadly, cleaning-up the environment.
When Thida was 10 years old she spent her money on toys, junk food, and other things that she wanted. She did not know how the value of money and did not understand the need to save for any emergency needs in the future. This was before attending the Cufa’s Children’s Financial Literacy program during the 2012-13 school year which laid the foundation for her future goals.
Today, Thida is 17 years old and lives with her parents, 2 sisters in Cambodia. She is the youngest daughter and her father works in the construction industry and her mother grows vegetables and raises chickens. Thida is now a first year university student at University studying a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in English Literature with a career goal of becoming an English teacher.
Thida says “the knowledge I received from the program 7 years ago when I was in grade 6 at primary school had a significant impact on me and it prepared me to set and strive to achieve higher goals from my small savings that I had then started.”
“After attending the Cufa program during school, I started saving her money in a piggy bank which I had asked my mother to buy it for me”, Thida said. “I set my savings goals, and first saved to pay for study materials, my school uniform and a bicycle”, she added.
Thida always hoped to continue to study at university when she was at primary school because her uncle was studying at university at that time. Thida said she really wanted to thank Cufa and the donors that supported the CFL project in Cambodia as the CFL program provided her with the money management skills when she was young laying the foundation that allowed her to develop a strong habit of saving and managing her money well.
Nowadays, she still saving money in her piggy bank but only 500 riels (18c AUD) a day as she spends more money now on her university needs.
Many children, like Thida, in poor communities in Cambodia can’t save the money for their school fees due to the low income of their family household but what they can do and useful for the family is saving the money to buy their school materials and uniform.
Read more about Cufa’s programs at cufa.org.au/our-programs/