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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Helen of Suong inspires commune

Helen of Suong inspires commune

Helen of Suong inspires commune

Lak Sopha, 27, and Sreng Sophat, 44, pack rice into bags in Cheang Sa village on the outskirts of Suong town. Photo by: Hector Bermejo

“BEAUTIFUL women” and “fertiliser credit schemes” are not expressions often found in the same sentence, but there again it is not often that you find yourself in Suong.

Although only inaugurated in December 2008, Cambodia’s latest provincial city is steeped in history. It was here that Neang Teav was born.

Just like Helen of Troy, Neang Teav’s beauty inspired legend. A story written about her by a Buddhist monk is still part of the school national curriculum. Now she has provided the inspiration, in name at least, for a community in the small village of Cheang Sa on the outskirts of Suong.

The modern-day community of Neang Teav was established in 2004 as a self-help credit scheme.

“The initiative to create the community was in order to promote our goods and find a market for them,” says Sreng Sopheak, head of Neang Teav’s monitoring committee.

Money is collected from the 71 members of the community and then loaned back out to them to buy fertiliser, at an interest rate of 3 percent. The government also contributed 8.5 million riel (US$2,000) in 2006.

“Since we established the community we have grown more rice,” says Sreng Sopheak. “All the families produce more rice, some a little and some a lot.”

According to Sreng Sopheak, whereas before the micro-credit scheme farmers used to produce three to 3.5 tonnes of rice per hectare, now they can generate four tonnes. The average yield across the country is 2.7 tonnes. They have also increased the amount of land they cultivate fivefold.

“Because they have fertiliser, now they can grow more rice,” he says. This has led to a marked improvement in the quality of life within the small community.

“We can see that living standards have improved,” says Sreng Sopheak. “Now we can send our children to school.”

The name for the community has more to do with romance than geography. Neang Teav was born a few kilometres from Cheang Sa in the district of Tbong Khmom. This does concern Sreng Sopheak. “This is the first village in the area that created a community, so we could choose the name.”

There might not be much more to the name than lore, but the people of Neang Teav appear determined to make a name for themselves in their own right. Not like their muse due to their beauty, but this time for their brains.  TRANSLATION BY RANN REUY

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