by Mara Seibert
In Cambodia, we saw a gap, a contrast between the rich and the very, very poor.
Sleek skyscrapers and the occasional parked SUV stood out against the coconut carts and street-side food vendors with their bright plastic chairs, slums and children pulling carts full of garbage through the streets of Phnom Penh. The businessmen on the top keep getting richer while the poor are trapped. How can they possibly break this cycle of poverty? Where was the out, the hope for a better future, a solution?
Our team’s goal in going to Cambodia was to discover first hand if microfinance was one of these solutions. However, what I saw and experienced proved micro to be so much more! Not only is it a great solution, but it is also a tool for empowerment, an opportunity, and a hope to escape the trap of poverty. One of the families we visited and had taken out several loans was a widow with five children. Her name was Sam Mai, and after her husband’s death she struggled to support herself and her children. The community looked down on her, and her children had to work as scavengers, unable to go to school.
The transformation now is incredible. The younger kids are in school and the older two have jobs. Sam Mai now works as a bread seller, having used micro loans to buy bread and a bike to sell her wares, and then another loan to increase her stock. The family is joyful, the community no longer looks down on them as their standard of living continues to increase, and they all have hopes of brighter futures. This story was not unique though- all of the families that we got to talk to had their lives transformed through micro. Just a few simple loans made all the difference.
In another province, as the result of a small loan, Sim is able to stay with his family and not travel 300km to find work. He and his wife Sophal opened a small convenience shop with their loan. Their kids can now go to school, and their young daughter dreams of becoming a school teacher. Micro transformed their personal lives, letting them be a unified family, their standard of living and their future. Communities are transformed as new services and businesses are brought into their area, some growing big enough in the case of one woman’s maze crop, that they can hire additional workers. Now the loan is no longer affecting just one family’s life and future, but several others as well as they gain jobs, and an increased income. Perhaps most importantly though, these loans and the lives of these families offer hope. They are a shining example in their communities of how it is possible to break free of poverty. These are determined people, working incredible hard- and micro is a key tool that allows them to start moving forward.
A stable source of income means the kids can stay in school. This not only means that they can be educated (often far more than their parents) and are thus more qualified for their future, but that they are less vulnerable. Once these children are off the streets and no longer have to scavenge, they are no longer tempting targets for traffickers, drug dealers and sexual abusers. Instead they can learn and play and simply be kids!
By the end of our trip to Cambodia, I was astounded at just how far this process of transformation could go. Amazed at how a small loan of $50 or $250 dollars could forever change a family’s life, and most importantly, restore their dignity. Microfinance is not a handout, but an opportunity to place the future of the poor in their hands and a tool allowing them to lift themselves up. This is the transformational power of micro.
Learn more about how microfinance is a key to strengthening communities and preventing exploitation. Be a part of providing freedom from trafficking and exploitation. Sign up to receive free resources, including Working for Tomorrow, a film about microloans in Cambodia. http://worldvisionmicro.org/acts
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