About ten kilometers from Phnom Penh, a group of ten women sit on the tile floor of a wooden house. Their hands are busy rolling pieces of paper, braiding plastic bags, cutting paper, needling rings of beer cans, and pinning and clipping the products into plastic bags with happy faces. Hundreds of beautiful earrings, bracelets, necklaces, key chains, bags, purses and glass mats are around them. These products come from recycled materials and the creativity of the mother’s group.
“We are 13 women. We are Self Help Group mothers,” says Saven Vong, 49, team leader of the group. She is married with one son and two daughters.
“Every month on average we are able to earn about USD 300 from selling the products we make,” says Saven. “The products are sent to eight shops in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. We share our profits according to the number of products that members produced. If we have good product marketing and many orders come in, I will increase the number of members because I want to see all children able to get higher education.”
“If mothers have a job like this, they don’t need to work outside the country and they can use the profits to send children to school. All the products are made from recycled goods so it saves the environment as well,” says Saven, a fact that she also eagerly shares with customers.
This story of hope and promise is a stark contrast for how Saven’s own life began.
“I had my own dreams. Before, I wanted to go to school, but my dream fell. My father was very conservative, only boys have the chance to go to school. He said that girls did not need to go to school because at the end would she just stay at home, cook and take care of children,” says Saven. “For me, I have different ideas. I want to give a chance to every child. They have the same rights.”
When the Sen Sok community was formed, in 2002, there were no jobs, no income, nor access to education, so many children and youth didn’t attend school.
“Before, I did not know about children rights. I kept my son at home and he did not know anything. But, when I learned about children’s rights, I learnt that keeping children at home is not good,” says Saven.
Lacking sufficient income Saven sent her oldest son, Sithy, to work. “You know, I used to make my son to work as a construction worker during the time of his physical development. I realize what I did was wrong. He was only 14 years old. Please imagine a small skinny boy carrying 50 kilogrammes of cement and going up to second or third floor. That is too heavy,” says Saven shaking her head.
Sithy is now 23 years old. He has finished university with a degree in business management and has a job doing administration work. Sithy doesn’t complain about what his mother did, he just wanted to help his mother.
“At that time, I wanted to attend English language course, and I tried to earn money to join the course,” says Sithy.
When World Vision was introduced to the Sen Sok community in 2007, Saven and her neighbors attended many activities such as child protection network meetings and self-help group meetings. There, they gained knowledge on child’s rights and also how to improve their living condition without having to migrate to other places.
“I want to share my experience to other mothers. I want them to learn from me. Please do not force your children to stay home or go to work,” says Saven.
It’s important to these mothers that their children have a better education than they did. “We cannot even write our own name and sign,” says Saven. “Our wish is for the next generation to finish at least the 12th grade.”
The members always tease Saven saying that she is never tired of talking about her products in an effort to sell more. Saven is a very active leader of the group. She has tried her best to find markets for the products. She hopes this existing group will become a good example for other women.
Through the efforts of Saven and her fellow mothers, the youth in Sen Sok community have transformed into agents of change.
“They (youth) gather in clubs and spend time to share knowledge to small children,” says Saven. “They teach small children English. They go to school in the morning, they schedule community development activities in the afternoons or during weekends. They lead their friends to clean the environment, teaching each other, reading books, give educational concerts, and raise funds for social development.”