Chor Vichara, Cambodia, weaves a better future for herself

A woman operates a loom during a training programme at the Women's Development Centre in Cambodia.
A woman operates a loom during training at the Women's Development Centre in Kampong Speu province, Cambodia. (Photo: UNDP/Chansok Lay)

The eldest child of a local school teacher and a homemaker, Chor Vichara, 22, dropped out of school at 16 so that her two brothers could pursue their studies. She then went to work at a garment factory in Phnom Penh, 40 kilometres from her home.

At the factory she earned about US$70 a month sewing shirtsleeves and sent some of the money home to support her family. However, after three years of monotonous work, she quit her job at the factory.

Highlights

  • UNDP's Partnership for Gender Equity is working to economically empower women in Cambodia.
  • Women Development Centers provide access to business services for female entrepreneurs.
  • Gender training and action groups have been established in 25 ministries and institutions.

“The work at the factory gave me no hope. I could learn nothing from it to build a good future,” she says.

Vichara is among the first 95 women who completed a six-month basic training programme in weaving and sewing at the Women's Development Centre in Kampong Speu province. The Centre works to provide women with economically empowering skills that will allow them to take on more substantial family roles and work closer to home.

The training programme is part of a UNDP gender equity project, implemented in partnership with the Cambodian Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

After her initial training, Vichara, along with 20 other women, completed an additional 3 months of training to upgrade her skills and become a trainer herself.

The extended classes include colour mixing -- using chemical dyes as well as traditional dyes made from tree bark cooked on gas stove -- and selecting and organizing colors for weaving groups. In the sewing class, the women are taught complex designs for making dresses and other cloth accessories like handbags, tableware and pillowcases.

Ms. Chorn Yoeurn, the centre’s director, is confident that the revival of old weaving traditions will help increase the value of the products, allowing the women to target a higher-end market including international tourists. 

Weaving traditional kramas, a kind of Cambodian scarf, is the second highest potential revenue source for people living in the province, after palm sugar. To date, 95 women from the province have benefitted from the project’s support to the Centre.

“Now I have real skills to earn my living in the future,” says Vichara, as she holds a handbag under the sewing machine.