A N enterprising program run by the International Labor Organization is helping
the country to get back to work and power an economic recovery.
$14.9 million from the UN and the Dutch Government, the Cambodia Employment
Generation Program has launched a three-pronged assault on unemployment among
the country's disadvantaged.
One project assists the creation of small
businesses, the second provides vocational training so the unemployed can learn
new skills, while a third infrastructure rebuilding project offers work to the
completely unskilled. As many as 15,000 have benefited since the program started
up two years ago.
Mike Shone, chief technical advisor with ILO said: "Our
aim is to provide employment to people who cannot be absorbed by agriculture
The program targets returnees and internally displaced persons,
women, demobilized soldiers and the disabled, those usually left behind in the
The small enterprise promotion project has already
helped 7,000 people start up their own businesses.
The project, has paid
out more than $300,000 in loans for businesses as varied as vegetable and fish
growing, tailoring, jam making, carpentry and auto repair and is entirely run by
Cambodians, who were first trained by international experts.
now formed their own NGO, the Association of Cambodian Local Economic
Development Agencies (Acleda), with five regional centers in Phnom Penh,
Battambang, Sisophon, Siem Reap and Kompong Cham.
usually approach the local Acleda office, which conducts training ranging from a
day to three weeks on basic business skills and marketing. At the end of the
training, each participant devises a business plan and applies for a loan to
Those with the best plans are given loans ranging from $10 to
$40 for very small businesses to $700 to $800 for larger ones. "We charge an
interest rate of two per cent per week, which could be up to ten times less than
what is charged by local money lenders", says project chief Roel Hakemulder.
People are divided into groups and stand guarantee for each other - they
return their loans to Acleda through their group leader and if a member
defaults, others in the group contribute to repay it for him. The high repayment
rate of 98 percent shows the program is being taken seriously.
gives us most satisfaction is that more than 60 per cent of the beneficiaries
are women," says Hakemulder, "In some areas like food processing and marketing,
the proportion is even greater."
The biggest problem for the project, he
says, is not so much that businesses fail or lose money, but that some
individuals simply take the loans and then disappear.
demobilized soldiers have taken the money and returned to the army, or
internally displaced people cannot make up their minds on where to settle down
and move to another place.
The project is closely co-ordinated with the
ILO's vocational training project, an informal program mainly targeted at those
who are willing to learn a new skill and have missed out on formal
Nearly 3,000 persons have been trained at its centers in Phnom
Penh, Battambang, Sisophon, Kampot, Siem Reap, Takeo and Kompong
"Our program is meant purely to develop skills that will give
people employment immediately," says project chief Trevor Riordan. A planned
program in Phnom Penh has proved so popular that 350 people have applied for 75
Riordan says that besides traditional areas like motorcycle
repair, radio repair, welding, domestic electrical repairs and carpentry,
manufacture of plastic goods is becoming popular. Training can take from three
days to 6 months.
Very often, people want to set up a business using
their new skills, and they are referred to the small enterprise project for
loans. In December last year, both programs were conducted simultaneously in
Kampot and they were so well received that similar ones are being planned in
Prey Veng, Kompong Speu and Kompong Som.
In both projects, the accent is
on diversification. "People who have been weaving kramas at extremely low piece
rates, or have been making hammocks out of jute have to be trained to use the
same skills to make other products in tune with today's markets," says
People who have been used to guaranteed jobs in state-run
factories are finding the current labour market especially difficult, the
For those who have no skills, the ILO has used its
infrastructure building project to provide up to 550,000 work days of employment
to laborers in road and canal building and in clean up work at the Angkor Wat
site. "About 5,000 people, most of them women, are working on our projects
everyday," says project chief Shone.
Nearly 155 km of road have been
laid in Kandal, Takeo, Battambang and Siem Reap, and canals have been built at
the Barai irrigation project in Siem Reap and at Bavel in Battambang.
Workers are normally paid about $1 for a specific task each day - two
cubic meters of soil digging, for example - after which they are free to leave.
"Most of the workers have fields, families or other business to tend to,
and we try to give them productive work which does not take up the whole day,"
As the roads are built, workers along the way are also given
basic literacy and numeracy lessons by the NGO International Catholic Migration
Ninety five per cent of the students are
The officers say ILO surveys have shown that economic activity in
project areas has increased upto 50 per cent since they started.
Riordan: "If we could not improve people's economic situation, we would consider
our project a failure."