By Ratha Ra, Regional Project Support Team Coordinator and Tola Chhorn, Cambodia VE Coordinator.
“Some women seem to think that losing a husband is losing everything in life.”
In Cambodia, the term used to describe a woman who no longer has a husband is “me mai.” The term is the same whether she is divorced or widowed.
Ms Thun Eon, a mother of four who lives in Kampong Chhnang province, Cambodia, has been called “me mai” by her village community for 10 years now, after her husband tragically died in a traffic accident.
“I couldn’t accept this tragic situation as my husband was a good person. He took good care of the family and worked so hard to ensure our family could live a better life,” Thun told us with tears in her eyes.
As soon as we met Thun, we understood that being a single mother meant a life of struggle. But she has never given up. “I have to ensure my four children are living a better life like other kids: I cannot abandon them,” Thun said with commitment.
“There was no time for me to continue feeling sad over the loss of my husband. I had to start working so hard to feed my children and provide them with a better future,” Thun added. After losing her husband, Thun worked from early morning until late evening making traditional flat baskets, which earned her 60 cents per day at most. With such a small income, making ends meet became impossible and finally her two sons decided to stop their studies to help the family: one went to work in a garment factory and the other worked in Thailand.
Thun had enormous difficulty even being able to provide for the most basic needs such as healthcare, food, clothes, education, and shelter. “I was so upset that I could not afford healthy food and proper clothes for my kids, especially an education for my sons; I was also very worried about their health and how I could handle it,” Thun said. Moreover, Thun understood that her flat basket business would never allow her to earn a better income. She dreamt of starting a small pig raising business, and got her plans underway by saving $2.50 a month in the local savings bank.
A miracle then happened for Thun and her family in the shape of a community investor through CUFA’s Village Entrepreneur Program. Thun joined the program in December 2013, starting her business with one pig. “I still cannot believe that someone who has never even known me is giving support to my family. I am very happy to be supported by this program and my family and I would really like to say thank you to my supporter,” Thun said, this time through tears of happiness.
For Thun and her business, it means getting up early every morning to look after her pigs, keeping the pig pen and all her equipment clean, feeding her pigs three times per day with organic food, vaccinating them regularly and comparing prices before selling her pigs. Thun worked so hard that she rapidly increased the size of her business from one to six pigs. Now she sells them every quarter to make a profit. She sold two pigs in the last few weeks and made an extraordinary $224 in profit. “I have never handled a lot of money like this,” said Thun with a happy smile.
Thun explained that her business is expanding day to day, and she has wisely used her profits to continue to grow and improve her family’s wellbeing. Projects include:
- Starting new businesses including chicken raising, cake making and vegetable farming
- Purchasing a pumping machine to support her pig raising, vegetable planting, and general family use
- Installing an electricity power-line for her family, plus a new TV
- Opening two new savings accounts for her children, who can now save $2.50 per month
- Moving to a new house, and raising the ground floor to avoid flooding
- Buying books, stationery and school uniforms to support her youngest child’s study plus that of her grandchild, whose parents work on the Thai border
- Buying essential household items like electric pots, chairs and cutlery
- Digging a new pumping well near her house
Even though her business is improving from quarter to quarter, Thun has to constantly grapple with challenges such as decreasing market prices and changing weather conditions, which can affect the health of her pigs.
But she is always looking to the future:like all CUFA’s Village Entrepreneurs, Thun is now living with better expectations and new goals. She is constantly drawing up new plans for her family: on her list is a new bike for her children to get to school, a new latrine and a new house.
“A big thank you to Tola Chhorn, Village Entrepreneur Project Coordinator, who is always teaching and supporting me in business marketing and technical projects such as how to build a pig pen, how to make organic food, how to look after my pigs and how to use the profits wisely. Without Tola, I cannot imagine how my business would go.” Thun said.
From starting out with nothing to the life she and her family now has, Thun will never forget how her community investor has made her journey possible.
“Without your support, my business would not have been able to operate like this and it’s helping my family’s living standards to improve. I would like to say thank you for your support and I wish you and your family all the best.”
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Meet Thun’s Village Entrepreneur sponsor, company director Chris Franks. We’ll be profiling Chris’s many years of achievement with the credit union movement in February’s CUFA Voice.
Chris has travelled to Cambodia in the past to see the Village Entrepreneur program at work first hand. “I am looking forward to my next trip to Cambodia,” she said, “and of course one of my stops on the way will be to go and meet Thun and to thank HER for being part of the program, for having the courage to do something quite new, to be a leader in her community, to show others how it happens, and for being such a hard worker.
“It’s hard work bringing up a family as well as rearing her animals. I do the easy bit.” Interested in visiting a Village Entrepreneur program? CUFA offers all our supporters this extraordinary opportunity to see the program in action. Connect with us now to enquire at email@example.com or 1300 490 467.