“I do not want my children to do the same job as me because it is very difficult and tiring. I wish they could study and go to university,” says Marie Vong, 36 years old, a food seller who lives in the poor community of Neak Loeung in Prey Veng province, Cambodia. With her husband working in construction and three dependent children, Marie’s family regularly faces financial challenges.
Cambodia’s poor number at almost 4.8 million, and 80 per cent of them live in rural areas (IFAD, 2014). Although Cambodia is one of the best performers in poverty reduction worldwide, with a poverty rate that have more than halved, from 53% (2004) to 20.5% (2011), these hard won gains are fragile (World Bank, 2014). Many people who have escaped poverty are still at high risk of falling back into it. According to the World Bank, the loss of just 1,200 riels (about $0.30) per day in income would push an estimated three million Cambodians back into poverty, doubling the poverty rate to 40%.
© AEA Cambodia / Chin
Addressing poverty; a major education barrier
AEA Cambodia and its partner Damnok Toek work to reduce poverty and vulnerability in Cambodia by helping families to to tackle the systematic causes of it. Poor families are provided with seed funds to start or strengthen their income generating activities. This enables them to cover some educational costs for their disadvantaged children, thereby creating opportunities for more girls and boys to remain in and complete school.
In 2014, Marie Vong was selected by the project team to receive a small grant of around 150 USD for livelihood activities. “Before, I only had a bike to sell my products. I could not carry a lot of food, so I could not earn much. And it was very tiring. The loan from the center allowed me to buy a motorcycle and a cart so I can sell more food and drinks,” she explains. Marie can now earn more money from the business to take care of her family and support her children to go to school regularly.
First, an investigation was conducted on the situation and enthusiasm of Marie’s family. She was then encouraged to submit a concrete idea to develop her activities. She also committed to sending her children to school. While two of her sons attend non formal education at the Damnok Toek center, her oldest son is going to public school. Once her loan was granted, Marie attended training on how to develop a business plan and manage budgets. Her contract was signed in front of public authorities, to ensure she would use the money appropriately. Marie is grateful of this support andalso proud of her own success. “Now, I can pay back 2.5 USD of my loan per week and I will finish my repayment next year. In the future I plan to extendour house,” she says with ambition.
Breaking the poverty cycle through education
Improving education for children and job opportunities for parents as a complementary strategy is designed to break the cycle of poverty. Families that live in extreme poverty cannot afford school costs, including books, uniforms and transportation. Parents who did not receive an education do not understand the impact on their children by pulling them out of school. This is a cycle: children who grow up without education are less likely to send their own children to school.
By offering quality education to children and support for income generating activities, AEA Cambodia and its partner Damnok Toek offer opportunities for children to learn. As a result they are eventually able to earn more money and support their own families. When people have basic life and literacy skills, economies grow more quickly and poverty rates decline.
Marie’s oldest son, Srey Chan, who regularly attends public school, obtains good results. He said: “I like going to school because I want to understand. After school, I help my mother to prepare food, I revise my courses and I like drawing.”