As Myanmar continues to experience hardship due to the effects of Covid-19, as well as political instability, Cufa’s field officers recently met with Thawda, a 46-year-old mother of four, whose knowledge of regularly saving provided by Cufa, has led her to mobilise members of her community to grow her local Village Savings Bank.
Before attending the financial literacy training as part of the Myanmar CUD Project, Thawda says “I did not think savings played an important role for community development and I did not know how to save systematically with community people”. However, since 2016 Thawda has been committed to regularly deposit small savings to her Village Savings Bank, hoping to grow her savings and obtain interest.
Among other benefits, her Village Savings Bank allows its members to apply for loans and easily withdraw money from their savings. These simple withdrawals, however, cannot be provided by the local government and private banks, and because of Thawda’s saving performance, she was able to obtain a loan to expand her grocery shop and manage daily cash in/out.
Recently, Thawda along with some of her fellow villagers discussed the impact of their Village Savings Banks and agreed that their Village Savings Bank needs to become self-sustainable and effective, as their local government support has been delayed.
“As I now understand more about savings and how it benefits members of my community to become self-sustainable, I have mobilised seven people to become members in our Village Savings Bank.”
In May 2020, our Livelihoods program pivoted to meet high demands for sanitation products, due to the unexpected turn of events brought by Covid-19. Since then, Community Soap Enterprises such as the Rung Roeung Soap Community have made their goals clear; to produce and sell affordable dishwashing and laundry soap to people in remote villages, whose access to liquid soap is difficult due to high costs; and to generate income and jobs to support their community members during the pandemic.
As part of Cufa’s commitment to the environment, we encouraged our Community Soap Enterprises members to recycle plastic bottles, often littered around the community. This initiative resulted in the Rung Roeung Soap Community reusing bottles, reducing costs, and maximizing profits.
“My team and I collected these bottles, clean and ensure they are for hygiene and quality standards for reuse. By recycling these bottles, not only do we reduce costs or purchasing new bottles for use, but also, we are taking care of the environment, particularly in our community” - Mr. Choun
Despite recent lockdown measures being implemented in various provinces of Cambodia, Cufa remains committed to equip and provide assistance to its recipients with our grassroots approach to alleviating poverty.
2021 marks Cufa’s 50th year, and to commemorate this, Cufa has worked with two knowledgeable scholars from Sydney University to write the history of Cufa, our work, and the wider Australian Credit Union community. Cufa’s history has been masterfully brought together by using sources from Cufa’s own historical archives, the scholar’s in-depth knowledge, and the Australian Mutual History Archives in Sydney. This collaboration has enabled Cufa and our colleagues to uncover some truly interesting moments in Cufa’s history. From our time in the Russian region of Kuzbass following the collapse of the Soviet Union to our early work in developing Credit Unions in post-war South Korea.
One interesting piece of history we would love to share with you has been the long connection that Cufa has had with Cambodia. Starting in 1998, Cufa worked with CARE Cambodia to encourage rural-based activities to increase women’s influence in financial decision-making, with Cufa leading a field team in Battambang.
Our next foray into Cambodia began when we used our previous work with CARE Cambodia to establish the Cambodian Community Savings Federation in June 2003. Since then, Cufa has worked in Cambodia in the areas of Children’s Financial Literacy, building Institutional trust and capacity building on our programs in Cambodia. Even today, we are continuing to expand our programs with our latest Soap Livelihoods Improvement Program having begun during the COVID-19 Crisis in 2020.
Recently, we met with Nan Thein, a mother of two, who previously to implementing the CUD program in rural communities in Myanmar, had no access to finance and limited financial knowledge, resulting in limited resources to overcome intergenerational poverty.
Financial access has been historically difficult for remote communities in Myanmar. More recently, the instability and COVID-19 lockdown measures continue have added additional pressures. Accessing finance such as loans and basic cash withdrawals have become more dire. Customers with commercial banks need to queue as early as 4am to withdraw money, often for several days and may not be able to withdraw due to limited funds in commercial banks due to the high demand of cash withdrawals.
Having access to a community savings bank developed using a grassroots approach, members such as Nan continue to access loans to own a grocery shop. Nan has been depositing small savings since 2016, her savings have increased which she has enjoyed watching and remained in a safe community-owned and operated financial institution. “I’m very happy, as I got into the habit of saving money regularly, along with my villagers, supporting each other and building trust”.
Cufa’s systematic training sessions have equipped Nan with increased financial knowledge and strong savings habits and budgeting which today, have enabled her to successfully borrow USD $500 to put towards having her own grocery shop.
After a difficult year filled with uncertainty, financial hardships, and disruptions, the Samaki Community in Kampong Cham continues to produce soap for their regional community, fighting the pandemic and maintaining a reliable source of income.
For Nhem Sokhun, this business means more than just making money. As the leader of the Samaki Soap Community, Nhem feels empowered and proud to be part of the fight against Covid-19. Only in the month of March, the Samaki Soap Community was able to sell 300 litres, and they hope to increase this number to 500 litres in a matter of weeks.
One year on, as the profits of selling liquid soap increase and there is no sign of the pandemic ending in the short term, the Samaki Soap Community hopes to purchase a motor vehicle and expand their businesses to other regional communities in need. Along with the skills required to produce soap, Cufa’s livelihoods Program also continues to provide training in the areas of entrepreneurship, financial literacy, and marketing.
The pandemic has had a significant impact to Cambodia’s education system, as schools continue to close to prevent further spread, affecting the delivery of our Children’s Financial Literacy Program in regional Cambodia. Cufa’s team remains committed to delivering financial literacy to our participant students, has and has adapted to provide lessons via video for students from grades 1 to 6.
As we commence the rollout of the video lessons, our field officers met with Yeuon Kung, an 11-year-old student from the Kampong Cham province, along with her grandmother. During their visit, Yeoun was happy to be able to receive her lessons from the safety of her home. Given her family’s financial situation, Yeoun did not imagine the option of learning from home.
“My home is in a rural area, so when the school closed, I did not have the opportunity to continue with my studies. Since my family is poor and we do not have a tablet or smartphone, I never thought I could watch the video lessons. Luckily, with the help of Cufa and the school, my teacher lent me a tablet to learn at home.”
As you may know, Cambodia is currently dealing with a significant outbreak of Covid-19, resulting in lockdown measures being implemented in multiple urban areas around the country. Given the developing situation, our Cambodia staff has not been able to visit the communities that we work with, affecting the delivery of our programs.
Since the cases have increased to an average of 500 cases a day, particularly in the Phnom Penh area, the government has prioritized its vaccine rollouts to these high-risk areas. As of the 10th of May, 19,743 cases have been detected, of which 126 people have died.
To ensure our communities receive all the support they need, our staff has been tirelessly providing over-the-phone support, as well as providing video lessons for the Children’s Financial Literacy Program. As of the 4th of May, 1718,708 people have received their first jab across Cambodia. Among these numbers, half of our Cambodian staff have received their Covid-19 vaccines, provided by the Cambodian government minimising the risk of exposure and infection once movement around the country is allowed.