Sally, a past Australian Rotaractor, writes:
I am 29 years old and in around a year I will be out of a job. Not because technology will replace me, but because a group of hard working, passionate Cambodians will.
We all work at Human and Hope Association in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We are a grassroots organization that was founded by locals to address a lack of education in our commune. We have developed so much more since our early days, and now not only do we focus on education, we also provide vocational training and community support opportunities to locals. This is because if we expect children to come and learn, we need to make sure their parents have the chance to earn. Hence, a holistic approach to development is needed so we can empower whole families to break the poverty cycle.
Take for example, Chomrong. A mother of three children, Chomrong was only able to study until grade seven due to poverty in her family. As a teenager she worked as a builder for four years, earning 88 cents a day. She later got married and moved to Siem Reap, staying on a piece of small land with her husband who was also a builder. Their salaries were not enough to properly feed their family, so their children would often fall sick and have to spend weeks at the hospital, pushing them further into poverty. In 2014 Chomrong was approached to study in our sewing program. She studied with us for a full year, learning the basics of sewing right through to elaborate ceremony dresses. She also partook in our life skills training, learning about topics such as domestic violence so she could understand her rights at home. One of her sons began studying in our preschool program, learning Khmer [the official language of Cambodia], hygiene and good habits. Her other son started studying in our English language program, learning a language that is required for any well paying job in Siem Reap. Chomrong borrowed a sewing machine through our microfinance program, and now earns a stable income making clothes for her neighbours and producing products for HHA at her home, enabling her to take care of her children at the same time. She is steadily moving herself up the poverty bracket, and one day soon she will move out of it completely.
Stories like this are possible due to the commitment of our team. Since 2012 I have been working closely with our local team to build HHA from the ground up. We have had lots of challenges and setbacks, but we have also grown a lot, too. We are committed to having Khmers operate our organization, as this is the most sustainable way for our community to develop. We do not accept foreign volunteers, instead focusing on locals training locals so that our team will unlock their potential by having positive Khmer role models and mentors.
Of course, by not accepting foreign volunteers we forgo potential funding. Luckily we have the support of Rotaract clubs who believe in our mission of empowerment of locals such as Crosslands Rotaract, who recently donated $1,000 towards our staff salaries. We also do what we can to generate income ourselves, and have a small farm and sewing business, amongst other methods, that ensure we aren’t entirely reliant on the generosity of others.
Our land rental contract is until 2029, when we will then disband. This is because we know that if we are truly being effective in our approach to development, our community will no longer require our projects by that time.
We are essentially working ourselves out of a job, and are proud of it.
-Sally Hetherington, Operations Manager at Human and Hope Association, Rotary e-Club of Southern Cross (District 9685), Charter President of Eastern Suburbs Rotaract 2010-2011