When Keo Keang of Pact Cambodia first met with Cambodian village women to introduce them to microfinance, “they just looked at the ground and didn’t speak a word.”
Three years later, Keo Keang says, these same women “dare to speak out and fight the struggle.”
On Thursday, Pact Cambodia organized a workshop to showcase the successes of its Women’s Empowerment Program, also known as WORTH.
“WORTH aims to encourage women to trust and help themselves,” program director Hor Sakphea told more than 30 participants from various NGOs, government bodies and Cambodia-based embassies.
The two-year WORTH program, which started in June 2005, introduced microfinance and taught literacy and numeracy skills to 2,985 women in Kompong Cham, Kandal and Takeo provinces, many of them victims of sex trafficking.
Keo Keang said 69 percent of WORTH members can now read and write fluently, up from 21 percent at the beginning of the program.
Some villagers were at first skeptical of WORTH’s micro enterprise system, called “the village bank,” afraid that they’d lose money, Keo Keang said. “Now 100 percent of the members have money saved in the village bank,” she said. A 2008 Pact survey found that daily income has increased for most women in the program, and members have saved a total of $53,180.
In WORTH’s village bank system, members are charged 2 to 4 percent interest for loans. Most women in Takeo province used their loans for silk production, while women in Kompong Cham and Kandal tended to invest in agricultural projects.
Phom Sok Nea, 41, a WORTH participant in Takeo’s Bati district, leads a 16-member work collective. “Instead of buying silk on credit, I can use the loan money to buy more silk to produce silk products,” she said. “It’s quite helpful. I’m empowered to earn money from my business by myself.”