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Cambodian workers in South Korea strive to bring back knowledge, skills, capital

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Cambodian migrant workers in South Korea meet with then-Cambodian ambassador Long Dimanche in October 2019. Niem Chheng

Cambodian workers in South Korea strive to bring back knowledge, skills, capital

Determined to improve his family’s financial position, Chhan Kimmen applied for work abroad far away from his relatives, including his twin brother, landing a job in South Korea, some three and a half thousand kilometres away.

As well as seeking a decent income, the young man from a Prey Veng province farming family was also looking at garnering knowledge and skills from his time in Korea to use to develop a business back in his homeland.

On his return, Kimmen partnered with his twin brother to establish Anachak Heroman Property Co, Ltd, now a million-dollar real estate company with nearly 100 employees.

“I wanted to help my family have a better life because we were not wealthy. So I boarded a plane to work in South Korea, because there you can earn a salary of between $1,500 to $2,500 US per month.

“This was of the main reasons behind my decision to work abroad, for a high salary to send back to my family, while I also sought to gain from my time in Korea the knowledge, skills, experience and capital needed to run a business back in Cambodia,” Kimmen said.

Heng Sour, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, said there are currently 46,199 Cambodians living and working in South Korea, 10,727 of whom are female, while 26,599 had ended their employment contracts and returned home, with 4,796 of these female.

“Most of those who return have improved their lives and have better skills, as well as entrepreneurial ideas for setting up their own businesses.

“They have skills desired by the employment market, but most of them do not accept the jobs offered because they want as much salary as they earned in Korea. So most of them turn to running their own business,” Sour told The Post.

Kimmen, a former Korean language teacher, took the first ever flight in his life on his way to South Korea in 2012. He returned in 2016 due to his employment term ending, and without a clear goal, he migrated for the second time a year later.

For the first four years, Kimmen worked in a construction material business, while in the second, he worked in a factory producing car parts.

Real Estate tycoon Leng Navatra, who also worked in South Korea, was a role model for Kimmen, who decided to also invest in the real estate sector on his return.

“Seeing him run such a successful real estate business inspired me to start a similar enterprise on my return home,” Kimmen, 34, the deputy director of Anachak Heroman Property, told The Post.

He partnered with his twin brother, who had experience in real estate, to establish the company, which is incorporated with the Ministry of Commerce.

With investment capital of $50,000, the twins were able to buy to five hectares of land in Siem Reap, dividing it up into small plots for sale. And Kimmen said that in just three months, the investment had increased to $840,000.

“It was unbelievable that so many people were rushing to buy the plots of land.

“The timing of my decision to my leave job in Korea and return home was right. We have continued to invest that $840,000, and we now have land in three different locations, two in Siem Reap and one in Bavet town in Svay Rieng province,” he said

At present, the founders of Anachak Heroman employ nearly 100 staff, and despite the challenges of Covid-19, the company has maintained its number of employees and continues to sell land.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Former migrant worker Chhan Kimmen in a photo taken in South Korea. Photo supplied

And the men behind Anachak Heroman will not stop with just three locations, with Kimmen saying they plan to expand into building boreys and condominiums in Sihanoukville, where their company already has land. They are expected to be completed in 2030, he said.

Kong Sarith, another two-term migrant worker in South Korea, has also used his knowledge, skills, experience and capital from the hard and the dangerous work he undertook in industrial smelting to set up a environmentally friendly charcoal business.

Sarith, who first started working in South Korea in 2006, said he had worked in various factories, such as producing car parts and textiles, because of the high salaries.

“I have expertise in car assembly working alongside Korean people, and earned a similar salary to Korean people as well. But there is no work at car plants yet available in Cambodia, so I cannot apply these skill here,” Sarith said.

When he returned to Cambodia, he also started a real estate business, before getting the idea of starting an environmentally friendly charcoal business after seeing the local forests decreasing.

He set up Khmer Children’s Charcoal, in Village 4 in Kampong Chhnang town’s Sangkat Khsam, to make eco-friendly charcoal recycled from waste products.

Anachak Heroman’s Kimmen recalled developing his business ideas thanks to a South Korean friend, who described to him the important contribution workers returning from abroad had made in South Korea’s development.

“Korea prospered from its people. Koreans worked in Saudi Arabia and brought skills back upon returning home to develop their country,” he said his Korean mentor had told him. “So, Cambodian migrant workers working in Korea must do the same.”

Kimmen added: “He said that when you return home, you have to work hard to be your own boss, to strike out on your own. I have taken the knowledge and skills acquired in Korea to develop myself. The salaries in Korea are high, and if you apply yourself and work hard, it’s possible to achieve the same here.”

He admitted that starting a real estate firm had not been easy, but with his twin brother having knowledge in the sector, they decided to team up to develop the company, and are moving forward rapidly.

“I want to share my knowledge, skills and experience in real estate with those who wish to venture into this sector because there is a lot failure. I have five principles for myself – do the right actions, make the right decisions, have the right thoughts, receive the right information, and have the right companions,” Kimmen said.

To give back to society, Kimmen has funded solar lights for installing on the streets of Siem Reap’s Banteay Srei district, with Khim Finan, the district governor.

“I have contributed to the installing of around 100 lamps in Banteay Srei district. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we also helped people in provinces with hand sanitiser. We have also distributed books to schools in remote areas,” he said.

However, not all migrant workers return from South Korea with the entrepreneurial spirit and a determination to start a successful business, and not everyone has a business plan.

So Sokhon, a migrant worker for nearly two terms who is set to soon return home, has expressed uncertainty about his future.

Sokhorn, 42, who has some savings from his for almost 10 years’ work, said: “So far I am not sure what to do. Let’s see the reality of what is around when I return.”

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