Sophy's Story

May 21, 2018
by Eliza Giroux

Sophy lives in Siem Reap, Cambodia with her young children.  Recently widowed, she made do by taking out micro-loans to sell produce in her village. This was difficult for her for a few reasons. The first is that she had to travel a long way to get the produce she would eventually sell. She does not have enough land to grow enough to make a living. This posed a problem because she either had to bring her young children on the trip or leave them home by themselves, neither of these being ideal options. Secondly, the produce would go bad very quickly; if she didn’t sell it in time she was out of luck and had to make the aforementioned journey all over again. Additionally, in order to sell them she had to walk for hours in the heat, attempting to sell to neighbors and strangers. This was quite taxing physically. But, despite any problems that may had arisen, she consistently paid back her loans in full and on time, making her a great candidate for Chamroeun Microfinance’s new graduation program.

Chamroeun Microfinance is “a leading Cambodian social microfinance institution working to achieve positive and lasting changes in the livelihoods of economically active poor families in a socially responsible manner.”

They originally worked solely through micro loans but have since expanded their reach into a graduation program. Through the help of the program, Sophy bought a coconut grinder and worked herself up through the graduation program. With this grinder, she is able to sit in one place and grind the coconuts. Now she can turn the coconuts into both oil and flour, which both have many uses, culinary and otherwise. Best of all, this alleviated the physical burden of walking around in the heat, and she is able to be at home with her children while she is working. This allows her to spend more time with them. Since then, she has become quite successful with her coconut business. She has bought a bigger property for her and her family. She has also been able to send all her kids to recieve a good education, something that was not an option in the past.

Sophy’s story

A tuk tuk driver on the way Siem Reap’s “floating village” | John Luke Giroux

Through Chamroeun Microfinance, Sophy was allowed an opportunity to ascend from the poverty in which she and her family were living. Not only did Chamroeun Microfinance give her small loans to jumpstart her business, they provided her with business training and held her accountable for the money she invested in the business.

Chamroeun Microfinance was established in 2005 and in 2016, and they were working with 32,191 families in 4,041 different Cambodian villages. Their target recipients are actively poor individuals and communities, particularly those in urban and sub-urban areas that are excluded from formal financial services. They utilize the five core elements crucial to a successful graduation program, as laid out in the BRAC model : targeting, consumption support, savings, skills training and regular coaching, and an asset transfer. Although they are not among the largest Microfinance institutions, through the help of Social Performance Task Force and other large microfinance agencies that provide guidance and financial assistance to microfinance companies, Chamroeun has been able to, in 2015 alone, provide business training courses to over 13,400 people and social training courses to almost 7,000 people. Their social training focuses on several topics such as domestic violence, health care, nutrition, the danger of drugs, and environmental protection. The classes ensure that their recipients are equipped with, not only financial skills but, skills that will allow them to thrive and make the best out of the money they make. For Sophy, these classes were very helpful because the province she lives in, Siem Reap, has a highly tainted water supply. By learning skills relating to health and the environment, she is able to prepare for and make lifestyle changes to make sure she and her family are healthy.

Sophy’s story

Sophy’s son in a hammock on their new property | John Luke Giroux

In essence, graduation programs similar to this combine social training, business training and, financial assistance in order to ensure a successful “graduation” out of poverty. It is a step above simple micro-loans on their own; it provides its recipients with resilience, resources, and accountability they would not otherwise receive.  Because of this program, Sophy is not just getting by, but allowing her family to thrive in a way they had not known before.

You can find out more about the work of Chamroeun Microfinance here.

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