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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ILO program boosts jobless

ILO program boosts jobless

A N enterprising program run by the International Labor Organization is helping

the country to get back to work and power an economic recovery.

Backed by

$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

alone."

The program targets returnees and internally displaced persons,

women, demobilized soldiers and the disabled, those usually left behind in the

development process.

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.

They have

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.

Budding businessmen

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

fund it.

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.

"What

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.

Sometimes,

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

education.

Nearly 3,000 persons have been trained at its centers in Phnom

Penh, Battambang, Sisophon, Kampot, Siem Reap, Takeo and Kompong

Cham.

"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

places.

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

Hakemulder.

People who have been used to guaranteed jobs in state-run

factories are finding the current labour market especially difficult, the

officers say.

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,"

Shone says.

As the roads are built, workers along the way are also given

basic literacy and numeracy lessons by the NGO International Catholic Migration

Committee (ICMC).

Ninety five per cent of the students are

women.

The officers say ILO surveys have shown that economic activity in

project areas has increased upto 50 per cent since they started.

Says

Riordan: "If we could not improve people's economic situation, we would consider

our project a failure."

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