Ratha Ra is CUFA’s International Project Liaison Officer. In November, Ratha spent time in the field collecting data on the Credit Union Development project in Cambodia.
CUFA’s Credit Union Development Project is run in Cambodia, Myanmar and Timor-Leste. It works to develop community-owned financial services in poor, rural places where people are “unbanked” and without a safe place to save their money. Fundamentally, CUFA believes that fighting poverty starts with enabling people to save money.
CUFA Cambodia is currently providing support to communities in four provinces, Kampong Cham, Tbong Khmum, Stung Treng and Ratanakiri. These are all rural areas that have previously had no exposure or access to financial services at even the most basic level.
In my new role as CUFA’s International Project Liaison Officer, I travelled to these communities to collect data and information to help CUFA evaluate the program and better understand both impact and where we can do more.
I was excited about this opportunity – the chance to talk directly to people whose lives we are trying to assist is special as it can help direct decisions about the projects and make improvements.
I visited three key communities. My first visit was to a community about 40km from main street of Memot district. The majority people in the area work in agriculture – mostly rubber, pepper and cassava. I also went to Stung Treng where the majority of people are migrants from Laos and speak Laotian. They typically work in the rice fields and as forestry workers in the nearby mountains. In Ratanakiri, the communities are comprised of indigenous Cambodians who also work in agriculture. This project location is extremely remote and the roads are difficult and dusty.
In each community, I spoke to the savings group members, committees, community chiefs and authorities, and people with disabilities. What I found was consistent across all three areas.
COMMUNITY BANK SUCCESSES AND IMPROVEMENTS IN QUALITY OF LIFE:
The data I collected suggested some important impacts on communities. Overwhelmingly,
- Members understand the importance of saving for the future.
- Members have increased their individual savings, enabling their money to be loaned to other members.
- Members feel their money is safe and that they trust their fellow members.
- Members can access loans at low interest rates quickly.
- Members have improved their financial literacy and family budgeting skills.
CHALLENGES OF LOCAL CREDIT UNIONS AND SAVINGS GROUPS:
- Some of the local savings groups don’t yet have enough capital to provide loans for the members, which has led to a handful of dissatisfied members.
- In some communities, villages think that saving money at home is safer than depositing it in a credit union.
- In some communities, rates of illiteracy and lack of numeracy have caused challenges for member training.
I am proud of the work that CUFA’s project officers and field staff, led by coordinator Mr Sokhdom Nong, have been able to do in remote communities. He and the team will work to address the challenges and community concerns over the next year through additional and specific training.
The data collection process was one the most eye-opening and exciting experiences of my new job so far. It is satisfying to see that through financial literacy and access to safe banking we can tackle poverty directly.