By Tongngy Kaing, Communication Officer CUFA
Mrs Sou Ean has taken part in CUFA’s RIEL Project training that provides her with the knowledge and skills on how to manage their family finances. She shares her story with CUFA’s Communications Officer, Tongngy Kaing.
In a small community surrounded by bushes, farms, and hills, 44-year-old Mrs. SOU Ean lives in her household along with her eleven family members. Her main task is to take care of two grandchildren whose parents work outside the community and to prepare food for the household. To help increase the family income, Ean has taken on extra work at home, so everyone is well fed.
Ean’s husband Mr. CHIM Toeurn, 48, is a construction worker, who earns $7.50 a day when working, but he does not work every day, it depends on the availability of work in the coastal province. Ean has four daughters, three of whom are married.
The youngest daughter is 12 years old and still goes to school. One of the daughters runs a small mobile phone shop, about 10 km away from the community, another works in a factory with her husband as does the other daughter who works with her husband also in a factory. She and her husband used to travel to work in Thailand but they have now returned home and work in a factory. Factory work does not pay well and they only make enough for themselves. The factory is located outside the community so they leave two of their daughters in their childhood home with her mother, Ean to look after.
To help the family save more money and increase their income, Ean fills her free time by raising pigs, chickens, ducks, and dogs and grows sugarcane, banana and various vegetables. Currently she is raising eleven pigs, twelve piglets and a cow. Every four or five months when she sells her pig, she earns as much as $2000 or more for around 10 pigs. From this she makes a profit of around $250. “Pig raising is like my saving account; I use the money from my husband construction work to buy pig food, so every four or five months, we can collect all the money,” she said.
Not everyone succeeds in raising cows, according to Ean, because it requires lots of attention, care and skills. “You have to know well the right food for a cow; you need observe your cow carefully to see if anything changes; you need to wash them regularly; most importantly when a cow is pregnant you have to take a really good care of her,” she explained, adding that raising a cow is more profitable than normal pigs. “Calves can be sold at higher price than pigs.”
Beside pig and cow raising, Ean can make as much as $100 extra per year from a small sugarcane farm she grows behind her house. She also grows bananas and other vegetables as well as raising chickens and ducks for the family to consume. In addition, she raises many dogs around her house to keep wild animals from attacking her poultry. She sometimes sells the dogs at a cost of $25 each.
Ean’s family is among many other families in Phnom Penh, Poipet, Battambang, Pursat and Sihanoukville living in communities where CUFA’s Reaching an Independent Economic Life (RIEL) Project is providing basic financial literacy to communities. Funded by the Australian Aid Agency, RIEL project has been working with 376 families who were relocated due to the Railway Rehabilitation and Reconstruction project in Cambodia. Since late 2012, RIEL project has provided the communities with training on 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 help line.
In their new locations, people were found to have difficulty managing their expenses; a large number have taken on debt without appreciation of the hidden compounding practices attributed to overdue interest payments and using their future land payments and using their future land title certificates as collateral for the loans they cannot afford.
“After one year working with the communities, we have noticed significant changes. Firstly, most people can find balance between spending and saving. Secondly, they have now understood the concept of sensible borrowing and have been able to manage their debt well; most of the people have moved their loans from local money lenders (with high interest rates) to Micro-Finance Institutions (with lower interest rates),” said Ms. Many Dy, RIEL project coordinator. She added, “For example, we identified 18 of the most marginalised households and were please to see that 16 of them have jumped from extremely poor level to poor level and are continuing to progress.” According to Many, the debts in the communities have significantly decreased over the year.
To the people living in communities supported by the RIEL Project, people like Ean, the project is important to them. “I have learnt the importance of saving and how to manage my debt,” she said while picking some vegetable leaves for dinner. And according to her, the project officer often helps by consulting her family budget and helping her to track all her incomes and expenses. Not only that, she said, “the project has taught young children in the community to learn to save, which in invaluable”.