By Marianne Pennings
Suos Sdei Khnhom Chhmoh (Hi my name is) Mao Ouk, I’m a 57 year old mother of six beautiful children, and I’m the owner of a small grocery shop. I grew up in a small village, Ba Phnom which is in the countryside of Cambodia. My parents were farmers and worked really hard to support their family. In 1975, our lives changed forever when they were killed under Pol Pot’s regime. My sister and I then moved to Korkothom, where I still live today. Here, along with my husband Sitha, I’ve managed to build my life and raise my family. It wasn’t easy having to support six children, especially after my husband was rendered paralysed and could no longer provide for the family.
As a business woman in rural Cambodia, I faced prejudice from other members in my community. However, I was determined to provide for my children. Since I was the only income earner, I struggled to provide basic needs including food, clothes and school expenses for my family; in particular, it was hard to help my children when they were sick.
In 2006, I opened a savings account but I couldn’t save much as I didn’t know how to manage my money very well and I only earned $0.75 per day from my small grocery shop. I had this savings account for three years when my community leader suggested that I may be eligible for CUFA’s Village Entrepreneur program. The community leader advised me that the program was gender inclusive and would allow me to develop my business skills as well as provide support to help my business succeed. I soon registered and was on the waiting list. After a short wait, I received the good news that I had been selected. I was very glad and excited to be accepted because I knew that my life would change. I would receive training and support to help my business grow. For three years, I learned how to record my sales and expenses and also learned basic business strategies such as good customer service, how to display my products and how to promote my business in my community.
Receiving support from my Community Investor and learning these business strategies resulted in a more than tripling of my income; at times I was saving six times as much as I was before being on the program. Learning about money management provided me with the skills to be able to expand my business by enlarging my stall, buying new equipment including tables, chairs, freezer boxes and I increased my product range. I now have a successful grocery business which has allowed me to contribute to my childrens’ weddings while also being able to look after my family. I helped my son go to university where he studies finance and banking. I made improvements to my house by putting on a new roof and steps. I bought new clothes and proper foods and I was able to pay for health care and participate in more social events.
The Village Entrepreneur program taught me how to make my business sustainable so I knew I could keep my business going long after the training and community investor support ended. I also applied the skills I learned to other aspects of my life such as creating a personal budget and teaching my children how to be financially independent so they will not have the hardships I had. It has given me the confidence to conduct business at a new level.
With my continued success, I plan to build a new house with my daughter. I am confident that the skills I have learned through the VE program will help me to continue being successful and self-sufficient.
The success of my business has helped me overcome the gender barrier in my community. I no longer feel discriminated against as a woman. People now respect me as a successful business owner who is able to provide for her family on her own. I hope that other women in my community will look to me as a role model and know they too have the potential to break free of gender stereotypes.
I would like to pay great gratitude and say thanks to my investor for helping me change my life and I wish the Australians all the best wishes and success in their work.