Story and photos collected by Keo Daro
How far would you go so your family could survive? Would you work three jobs and never sleep? Beg or steal (or both?)? Would you migrate to another country, leaving your children behind, in search of work?
These are the unimaginable choices that faced many families in Chim’s rural Cambodian community. Farming failed to produce enough food or income to care for their children. Other employment opportunities were scarce to non-existent. Parents were forced to leave their children with aging grandparents and migrate to neighbouring Thailand in search of work, hoping to bring home enough support to survive.
This situation is an example of the kind of labour predicaments that United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 8 aims to redress. The member nations of the UN (including Canada) recognized that it isn’t right for parents to be put between a rock and a hard place when it comes to providing for their families. So we committed to Goal 8, “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.” Because people like Chim and her husband didn’t want to leave their home and family, and they shouldn’t have to.
But with her husband’s disability, it was hard for them to survive. After all, farming by hand while leaning on a crutch is pretty near impossible! So Chim cobbled together a living with small farming, working as a day labourer for others, and collecting government assistance. But it wasn’t the life they wanted for their family.
“My family life was not good at all,” Chim explains. “Day by day, we were just busy with our farming activities and did not have much time for [our son] Nalin. I did not get much [from agriculture] because there was a lack of sustainable farming techniques and [I] just followed others in traditional ways. So, I did not make much profit and failed many times.”
Like most families in her community, Chim had never learned how to budget or save; they simply spent the little she earned on the immediate needs in front of them. “We just overspent with untargeted tasks,” she says. Sound familiar? How many of us in Canada pull out the credit card when we need (or want) something we don’t have the cash for, and simply worry about the bill later?
In addition to struggling financially, Chim’s family also struggled with their health. Without access to clean water, they frequently became sick from waterborne diseases and poor hygiene. Nutritious food was also scarce, leading to fatigue and more sickness. In an effort to get healthy, they spent more than they could afford on medicine and visits to the clinic.
“This made me depressed from time to time,” Chim shares. It was clear the community needed fresh energy and new ideas, someone to come alongside them and help create new opportunities for thriving.
In 2016, FH Cambodia joyfully partnered with Tropeang Prasat 3, the greater area Chim calls home. They began their work by listening. As families told their stories, FH staff learned their strengths and helped identify their common stuck points. Together with local leaders, they put together Community Development Committees (CDCs) to craft goals and activities that would help families get out of poverty.
Chim and her husband threw themselves into the new efforts. They took FH agricultural workshops where they received technical training as well as seeds and chickens. They joined Savings and Loans Groups and became an integral part of setting up and promoting their local CDC. Chim helped recruit community volunteers who were interested in farming activities and raising animals, promoting childhood education, building a community-based children’s club, and forming Savings and Loans Groups.
As the community worked together, life began to change. Parents gained a better understanding of the value of education and the support they needed to send their children to school. Families developed the technical skills to grow productive kitchen gardens and raise animals to feed themselves, plus earn an income!
Neighbours joined Savings and Loans Groups where they learned how to plan, budget, save money, and take out low-interest loans to actually start businesses. Health began to improve as households put into practice new ways to keep their homes clean, purify drinking water, and build safe toilets. Every area of life began to transform!
This all-encompassing change is what moves a community from stuck to thriving. It’s what brings the world one step closer to achieving SDG 1—“End poverty in all its forms, everywhere.” And it’s what FH is all about—ending poverty, one community at a time, one person at a time.
Like many in her community, Chim experienced improvements in income and health, and was able to shift priorities to improve their quality of life. “I have changed a lot in my daily life,” she explains. “I have more time for my family, know more about their health care, reduced outside work (working for others) into farming and raising [animals] at home.”
And no one is being left behind. Chim comments on how deeply she appreciates the way FH Cambodia “works closely with vulnerable households, widows, and people with disabilities in different communities.” After all, her husband has gone from the shame and frustration of being seen as a cripple to co-owning a family business and helping support his wife and son.
Chim has also undergone a personal transformation. She shares, “Before I got involved with FH Cambodia, I was a shy person; I did not have the courage to express myself in the community and rarely attended any community meetings… [Now] I have more courage to express myself among others, have a good relationship with my neighbours, and continue to strive to be a good role model in the community through agriculture startups beyond the FH Cambodia project. I better understand myself, like what I want and what I should do to achieve my goals.”
As Chim and her family lean into this new lease on life, her desire to help her neighbours continues to grow. She’s committed to sharing her sustainable agricultural techniques and animal rearing know-how with her community so that, in her words, “we can grow together.” She’s delighted to see her efforts have already started to pay off.
Chim’s mindset transformation from being inwardly focused to community-oriented is what will make all this change sustainable. “I feel happy to have FH give us advice as a local partner to fight against the poverty in my community from all aspects,” she says. “They provide their programmatic development and build our people’s ability and skills to help ourselves while not being dependent on others like before.”