A story of survival and hope from Preah Vihear

Poverty Graduation Series (Part Two)

December 19, 2023

Sean Sophanyvorn and Phan Kuong live in the Rovieng district of Cambodia’s northern province of Preah Vihear. They are the picture of perfect match as they work in tandem planting and tending to their rows of vegetables.

Kuong has known how to grow and tend to vegetables since she was young, but she only started with Sophanyvorn to make a living from farming  two years ago.

Sophanyvorn became a monk after finishing his high school education. When he returned to his village years later, he was without a job and began working in construction to sustain his family.

“I got money only when I had work to do,” Sophanyvorn explains. “Without work, I wouldn’t get any income.”

Kuong began was very worried about her husband and their family’s survival. “At night, I was sometimes too stressed and kept asking my husband what we should do,” she shares. “We didn’t have any savings so the only option we had is working in the field in exchange for rice to feed our children.”

Sophanyvorn and Kuong are one of many households in remote areas of Cambodia that continue to face extreme poverty, which was heightened during the pandemic. As one of the provinces with the highest poverty rate in the country, Preah Vihear was among two provinces targeted for support by UNDP Cambodia under the Graduation Based Social Protection (GBSP) project.  

The GBSP project, implemented in partnership with the General Secretariat for National Social Protection Council, Ministry of Planning, Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation and Ministry of Interior, pilots a graduation-based social protection scheme, which bridges between social assistance and productive livelihoods. From 2020, the pilot has been supporting 2,400 households through providing micro capital for investment in income generating activities in addition to a monthly consumption support stipend and life skills training. The pilot was designed to accommodate the special needs of women and persons with disabilities.

Sophanyvorn and Kuong were one of these selected households that are working to improve their livelihoods, increase their income generation capacities, plan their future and, ultimately, secure a lasting self-sufficiency and graduation from poverty. 

They received by 2022 960,000 Cambodian Riels (US$240) to expand their source of income in addition to monthly consumption support of 60,000 Riels ($15). With these funds, they bought an assortment of vegetable seeds, six chickens and two pigs.

“I earn around 10,000-20,000 Riels ($2.50 – 5.00) per day, sometimes 30,000 Riels, selling vegetables,” Kuong says. “I really want to expand my business. I want to raise more chickens and more pigs. With my earnings, I am saving to buy zinc sheets for my house rooftop and a water pump. I will also keep some money for our children’s education.”

The project has also provided Sophanyvorn and Kuong with life skills and financial management trainings that have allowed them improve their living condition.

“Community trainers and youth volunteers encourage couples to help each other, clean the house, take care of their health and support children’s education,” emphasizes Sophanyvorn. “I think children’s education is very important for their future. My children are getting a better education [and] now, when they want to study more and learn English, I can afford it. My wife and I work hard so that our children can access education.”

Together, Kuong and Sophanyvorn are working to build a more resilient livelihood and income stream for their family. Their efforts will shape not only their own future, but also the futures of their children and local development in Preah Vihear province, eventually.

This story is part two of a two-part series covering the experiences of households participating in UNDP’s Graduation Based Social Protection (GBSP) project. Read part one here or learn more about the GBSP project.

Watch their interview: Available in Khmer and English.


Contact: Ms. Chhunmuoy Ath, Communications Analyst, UNDP Cambodia at communications.kh@undp.org