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‘Lady tuk tuk’ takes to the streets

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Siem Reap’s first fully-sponsored female tuk tuk driver took to the roads on March 14, courtesy of the Shinta Mani Foundation which gave her a small business loan and supplied her with a new tuk tuk.

The driver Maly, 45, was selected to be Shinta Mani’s first lady of tuk tuks because, as executive director Chitra Vincent explains, she is a strong character who overcame adversity many times in her life.

“Maly was born in Battambang and during the Khmer Rouge war her parents and two of her siblings were killed,” says Vincent. “So she and her brothers and sisters were on their own and when she was sixteen, she was given in marriage. After having three kids her husband left her and married somebody else. Then she was left with three kids and no skills, nothing.”

Maly was advised to move to Siem Reap where there were better work opportunities. Despite not knowing a soul, she moved and with no job, decided to buy an old motorbike with money saved and try to become a motodop.

“I don’t know if she was the first woman motodop,” muses Vincent, “But that’s what she was doing and she sent money to support her sons. Two of them have now gone to Thailand, the third is still studying in Battambang.”

As luck would have it, a Shinta Mani staff member lives next door to Maly, and when the Foundation was looking for candidates, Maly’s name popped up.

“The reason that I decided to take her is that if you take a younger person I know they are going to be teased a lot by the other tuk tuk drivers,” says Vincent. “It’s not going to be easy, the first one. When I interviewed Maly I knew that she’d gone through a lot. Living alone in Siem Reap, she told me that one night four men broke into her house and she fought with them single-handedly. Looking at all the different stories she experienced, she is a tough character. So I thought she was perfect. And of course she speaks English because she’d been taking tourists to the temples, and a little bit of French.”

Maly’s very first customer was Sally Douglas from Women’s Resource Centre,  who gave Shinta Mani Foundation the idea of a female tuk tuk driver. Shinta Mani Hotel general manager Christian de Boer had seen a Facebook post of Douglas’s about her female driver in Phnom Penh, and was inspired.  

On Maly’s maiden drive on Thursday afternoon, she transported Douglas from Shinta Mani hotel to her office.  Douglas says Maly drove “cautiously” but confidently, delivering her safe and sound.

The Foundation is now seeking a second female tuk tuk driver,  a task De Boer feels will be somewhat easier with Maly paving the way.

“It all depends on this particular one lady,” says De Boer. He adds that if she can make enough money, other women will be motivated to become drivers.

He says, “I’m pretty sure that finding tuk tuk driver number two, female, is going to be relatively easy.”

Vincent feels it is not only tourists who will make up Maly’s customer base. “I know a lot of expats who want tuk tuks to drop their kids off at school. They want monthly deals.

Somebody who will really take care of their kids so they’d be really open, I think, to a woman doing it.”

“It’s a good thing and it’s the beginning of change,” adds De Boer. “Just like all those years ago it wasn’t normal for a female to be a tour guide and now it is.”

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