By Tongngy Kaing, Communication Officer CUFA
In a concrete house with zinc roof in Phnom Penh a young boy lives with his mother and two sisters. The young boy is 13-year-old Sovatra Meas and he has taken on the role of supporting his family whilst most other boys at his age only focus on playing and going to school.
Besides attending school in the morning and afternoon, the primary-school student spends his late afternoons catching fish for his family’s dinner. To ease his family’s economic situation, he tries to save his pocket money for any family emergencies.
Sovatra’s father left his family more than a year ago and he has not supported the family at all for the last seven months. His older sister, who was learning to be a hairdresser, has had to stop her apprenticeship and has started working in a factory to help support the family.
His mother weaves cleaning cloth to earn some income for the family while raising some chickens and ducks and growing some vegetable around the house. However, in the last couple weeks, the weaving business has been affected badly by the flooding that has caused the road in her village to close. As a result, there is no way to transport materials in and out of her village. This has strained the family’s finances even further. In times of emergency, the family has been forced to use Sovatra’s savings to pay for food.
Sovatra began saving regularly several months ago after he received a piggy bank (saving box) from CUFA, who has been working in his community to provide basic financial literacy under the Reaching an Independent Economic Life (RIEL) Project. One of the training components is Children’s Financial Literacy, which aims to build savings habits amongst children in the community.
“I save, so my mother can use the money when in very hard situations- when we are broke,” Sovatra said with firm face and added, “but I can also use the saving for shirt, trousers, shoes, or bicycle.” He saves between 3 to 25 cents every day from his pocket money that his mother gives before going to school. In the morning, he learns English through another non-government-organisation which also provides him with free lunch. In the afternoon, he attends school. After school he goes to the rice field surrounding his community to go fishing. “I can catch enough fish for my family meal but sometimes I only catch a few,” he said with a big smile.
When asked about his future plan, the fifth-grade student said, “I want to study to get knowledge, so I become an educated person when I grow up. I want to be a scientist- to produce robots.” And when asked if he is saving now to achieve his future goals, he said, “I do not really know but I know that saving is important for my mum. I mainly save for her.” Sovatra also encourages his younger sister to save in another piggy bank she received from CUFA.
Funded by the Australian Aid Program, RIEL (Reaching an Independent Economic Life) is a CUFA project designed to provide basic financial literacy to about 400 hundred families affected by the Railway Rehabilitation Project in Phnom Penh, Poipet, Battambang, Pursat, and Sihanoukville. The project provides the communities with training in seven core components- Understanding Financial Concepts, Family Budgeting, Sensible Borrowing or Managing Debt Repayments, Setting and Achieving Financial Goals, Micro-Enterprise Development, Financial Balance: Spending and Saving, and Children’s Financial Literacy. The core components are accompanied by the on-going support services of financial counseling and a telephone helpline.