How a credit union changed a whole tribe.
By Chhengla Leap, Project Officer, Cambodia.
A small credit union with a big heart, Trom Model Credit Union ,was formed on 1 January, 2012. It has 30 members from 30 households, and all are Toumpoun Indigenous people who depend on agriculture for a living, growing crops like cassava, soybean, cashews and rice. The entire credit union capital has come from members’ savings. All members are owners and all have their voice in the decision making.
Located in Ratanakirì (meaning ‘Mountain of Jewels’) province in Cambodia’s remote northeast, it’s over nine hours’ drive from the capital Phnom Penh.
Trom Model Credit Union’s mission is to provide affordable financial services and to build a strong, cohesive community. It provides low-cost agricultural loans to member in order to improve the livelihoods of the community. Presently, Trom Model Credit Union has total savings of $8,550 and outstanding loans of $9,950 to 39 households. There are two main products offered to members: a compulsory savings program and a voluntary savings program.
Trom Model Credit Union is different from other financial cooperatives and savings groups in Cambodia, which sometimes receive external credit support. The group’s philosophy is that sustainability starts from their own savings, and that it is important that they are not dependent on funding from external parties.
CUFA staff have helped to build trust in the Trom community, and have brought strong solidarity to the tribe. The villagers have found CUFA’s training in financial literacy, cooperative education, book-keeping and family budgeting invaluable. The members take pride in the fact that Trom’s credit union is one of the most sustainable in Cambodia. This is due to the fact that members are the owners, and they are always involved in the decision making.
The Model Credit Union development has had a positive impact on the tiny community. The tribe has a seasonal income because it depends solely on agriculture. During some seasons, they experience food shortages. Through CUFA’s support, the tribe’s financial habits have changed. The members better understand the value of money and set their priorities accordingly. In addition, families have a monthly savings plan for those seasons where they can’t earn an income. This is empowering for the members and enables them to take control of their lives.
As the leader of Trom Model Credit Union, Mr. Rochom Pen, said: “Without the members’ participation and empowerment, Trom Model Credit Union would not exist and our community would not be as stable or as happy.”
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Photos: Mr. Rochom Pen, The Leader of Trom Model Credit Union.