Roeurn En smiled and said, "All of FH’s projects help people in the community. They make a big difference personally, like building my self-confidence that I can do something despite my limited education. I can improve our living condition, both in our own family and for the whole community. I am happy and feeling motivated to do more.”
Roeurn En belongs to one of the two Savings and Loans groups in Tep Chey, a remote village in Boeng Mealea. Joining the group triggered a ripple effect of incredible changes for herself, her family, and her community.
En and her husband Lon Yet used to struggle to provide for their three children. Lon Yet worked as a day labourer, but despite his hardest efforts they never knew if there would be enough. “I remember that there were many times we lacked food and I pitied my children. I asked my eldest son to drop out of school and help his father. We did not have any idea about small business back then,” recalls En.
At first, En was nervous about saving money as a group and she thought the meetings would be a waste of time. But through the persistent encouragement of FH staff, she began to participate. And she loved it! “Being in a savings group opened more ideas to me on what I can do with my savings,” she explains. “FH presented to us several options that we can try and engage to make our money grow.”
En began discussing ideas with her husband to create work that was more productive and satisfying than labouring for others. Together, they made a plan. En borrowed 3,000,000 Riels (nearly $1,000 CAD) from her group to launch her Khmer Noodles* business and to buy a water tank and hand tractor for Lon Yet’s new water delivery business. Both of these activities had a dual purpose – to provide much-needed income for their family and serve their community.
“Khmer Noodles is profitable because it needs small capital and people love to eat this for breakfast. It will never be out of demand because it is part of Cambodian staple food already. Not only that, I feel that by selling it, I help my community in their daily activities, especially in the morning when they don’t have enough time to prepare food for their family,” En excitedly explains the personal and communal benefits of their businesses. “Our hand tractor is not only used for water delivery but also to transport our family to market and to the farm. [In addition], we can deliver water especially when there’s no rain since water is one of the basic necessities of the people.”
Today, En and her husband are providing for their family. They eat well and their two youngest are back in school full-time. Their eldest son has not yet chosen to finish his education, but En holds out hope that he will still go into vocational training.
Through additional FH workshops, En also learned about agriculture, general family health, and the value of education. “Before, we lived a very unhealthy life because we were not given any options. Even something as simple as drinking safe water – we did not know that the water my children were drinking was making them sick with diarrhea. They also often got the flu and dengue fever during rainy season. We felt hopeless at that time and that situation was really awful. I don’t like my children and my family to experience the same hopelessness again,” she shares. In response to what she learned, Roeurn En’s family started using a latrine, filtering their water, and washing their hands more frequently.
Though remote, Tep Chey Village no longer lacks access to what people need for daily living. Due to their creativity and openness to new possibilities, they’ve diversified their livelihoods to serve their families and each other. “We’ve changed in the way we look at life,” En testifies. “In the future, I hope to see that each family will not struggle anymore, and we can sustain the changes we started now.”
*Khmer Noodles: Num banh chok are traditional, labour-intensive noodles made by hand using a heavy stone mill to crush fermented rice. Dishes created from these iconic noodles also carry their name.