Textile workers in Cambodia empowered with UNDP-EU support

women at sewing class
Students at the training centre. Photo UNDP Cambodia/Chansok Lay

Kampong Cham Province – Kong Theara beamed broadly when she was handed a seaming machine as a special prize for graduating at the top of her sewing class. Giggling intermittently, she spoke of her plans to set up a tailor shop and about a new, better life that she hopes the business will bring. “I don’t think I will be poor anymore in the future,” Kong Theara, 22, said.


students with certificates

She is one of 17 women who have just received a new lease of life after completing a training course in dress-making at the Vocational Training Centre of Women Association for Peace and Development, a non-governmental organization, in Kampong Cham province.

The six-month course was supported by the EU and UNDP through the Inter-Commune Cooperation project (ICC), an initiative aimed at helping local councils in Cambodia to pool ideas and funds to address the needs of the local residents. The requests could vary from: schools, roads, farm irrigation, health centers to income-generating skills.

Pilot project creates closer ties between communities

The project has been piloted in 12 provinces with Kampong Cham province being one of them. There, leaders of four neighbouring communes agreed to make skills training in dress-making a priority to help women in their communities earn an income to support their families.

Dong Sopha, the chief of Lnieng commune, explained her choice on having the training.

“Tailoring business needs little capital to start with. A poor family with a sewing machine can also make money from making shirts or skirts. Also, they don’t need to go far from their home and low-educated girls can easily learn the skills,” Dong Sopha, 54, said.

Under her initiative, the four communes drew up a joint proposal which was subsequently awarded US$5,180 from the ICC fund. In December 2010, the training began for 17 women picked from the poorest of the poor families in their villages.

In a country where women are generally worse off than men, the number of the trainees indeed represented just a drop in the ocean. Compared to men, Cambodian women do not have the same opportunities to further education and employment with a decent salary. Although, they are considered the back-bone of the family, many of them face constant domestic and sexual abuse.


Training offers alternatives to migration

Kampong Cham province is a primary source of migrant workers who leave their homes to work in garment factories in the capital Phnom Penh or as maids in neighboring countries.

Chun Sophoeun, 30, used to be one of those garment factory workers whose average earning was US$60-70 a month, barely enough for them to get by on. During a visit to her home village late last year, she learned about the training programme and was very interested to get more involved. With the support from her parents, she decided to quit the factory job to enroll in the sewing class.

“Coming to learn here can help me have a real skill. Although I did not earn any money during the training, I will in the future using the sewing skills I have been taught,” Chun Sophoeun said.

Making clothes was not the only lesson taught to the students. The women also learnt about issues of gender and domestic violence issues that affected their community.

When they graduated in May, they received not just a certificate of completion from the programme but each of them received a sewing machine and other necessary tools required to set up a tailoring business.

“All trainees are from poor families. If they have only skills but no means, they would end up migrating to work as garment workers like before. But with the sewing machine, they can use it to make money without having to leave their homes,” said So Samuth, a woman who heads the training centre.

Some of the graduates said they planned to team up to set up a tailoring business.

Kong Theara used to work as a garment factory worker for three years. She said she had enough of working for others and that it’s now time for her to work for herself. As the top student in the class, she received a sewing machine and a seaming machine to pursue her dream of partnering in a tailoring business with her cousin.

“I am not going back with bare hands. Now I have the skills and tools to join my cousin in running the business. We will make money and share profits,” she said confidently.

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