Growing up in rural Cambodia, Theng’s family was poor. She had to drop out of school in Grade 4 because her parents couldn’t afford to give all their children an education. But she hasn’t let that stop her. Today, Theng is married with four children (ages seven to six months) and works as a farmer and grocery shop owner. Her family lives in a sturdy wooden house with a tile roof. They have a latrine at home, a handwashing station, and a filter for their drinking water.
In the past, however, they struggled. “Before FH came, the living condition of my family was very poor,” Then explains. “One or two months out of the year, we experienced a lack of food. Our harvest was low, and my husband did not know what to do. Both of us have limited education so we just followed what our parents did in their farm before us. Every time we had money, we would spend it all and nothing was left for emergencies. During an emergency situation, I was forced to borrow from private lenders and suffer the high interest. It added to our bad situation because we cannot pay back immediately. I was too shy to borrow from my neighbours because I did not have a good relationship with them. During these times we faced problems with our children. They would experience sickness in the stomach and later I learned that they had diarrhea.”
When FH began walking with Theng’s village, her community leaders invited the villagers to a meeting where they explained the various FH initiatives that community members were welcome to participate in. After Theng’s experience with borrowing from a private lender, it took time to convince her that Savings and Loans could help her family. Eventually, she and her neighbours organized themselves into a group and her peers elected her to be the cashier.
“I was not happy at first because I was not confident about myself with my low education,” Theng recalls. “But FH staff assured us that they will train us on how to do the recordings, keep our money, and make our group policies – then we got it.”
Visiting a successful savings group in Anlong Veng was key to helping Theng’s group gain confidence in the process and dream up ways their own group members could invest their money to make an impact for their families.
Theng decided to open a small grocery store. “I talked to my husband and we borrowed money from my savings group to have capital to start a shop. FH provided me with support on how I can grow our business, alongside raising some pigs. Our shop is giving us income because my neighbours buy in our shop since the market is very far. I can help them in this way also.”
FH’s presence in their community has also helped improve Theng’s children’s health and provided her husband with new agricultural techniques to improve their farm’s yields. As a result, their income continues to climb. Theng explains, “We were able to save money because my children are not getting sick anymore. Instead of spending our money on hospitalization, I can save it. I also practice exclusive breastfeeding with my youngest child which I learned from the [health] volunteers in our group. My husband has benefited in agriculture because we have people we can ask [for support] if we want to improve in raising pigs and growing in our farm.”
Theng is proud of the changes they have made and especially of how her children benefit. “My two [oldest] children are going to school now. I see to it that I bring them to school and help them at home. I also know their teachers. I understand the value of educating my children.”
Theng’s husband shares what he sees as FH’s most valuable contribution to their village, “We help each other in the community unlike before. The sense of community is very strong.”