Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodian poor trading themselves out of the red

Cambodian poor trading themselves out of the red

Cambodian poor trading themselves out of the red

A busy fish market springs up each afternoon along a muddy pathway in front of

Village "D". By the early evening, the women who were selling fish might be

doing some other business, roasting bananas, or perhaps making rice

cakes.

"We tell them don't be shy... be strong," says ACLEDA team leader

So Phonnary, "now all the women have got this kind of confidence."

This

is "micro" money-lending Khmer-style.

Rural lenders ACLEDA (Association

of Cambodian Local Economic Development Agencies) has lent three million riel

($1,200) to this one poor village of 460 households on the outskirts of Phnom

Penh.

Almost every stallholder hawking food or produce or clothing has

borrowed a few thousand riel or more from ACLEDA, each of them a member of a

"borrowers group" that guarantees the repayments of each other.

There

hasn't been a single default in repayment. People have borrowed three or four or

more times in loan "cycles."

Women - ninety five out of every one hundred

ACLEDA borrowers is a woman - have escaped grinding poverty here and are now

making a bit of money, sending kids to school and providing important support to

husbands who might be out driving cyclos or motos, or to sons selling

newspapers.

Many of the women are the sole income earners.

The

only people losing out are the traditional money lenders who run the bigger

grocery-type shops across the streets, who look across on these fledgling

enterprises with arms crossed and wearing a frown.

ACLEDA provide not

only money for new businesses to the poor, but also training in marketing,

keeping accounts, business advise, ideas and opportunities, and even family

planning, motivation, and savings skills.

The decision of who to lend to

however, and who not to, comes quite firmly on the recommendation from village

chief Vannay Themongtero, who runs her beauty parlor on the street front. There

is nothing that goes on in the village that Vannay does not know

about.

"Vannay tells us who would be good to lend to, who has got good

business ideas, and what families do nothing or just play cards and gamble,"

Phonnary said.

The mood is catching: Moal Son is an old widow who

borrowed 10,000 riel ($4) for her cake and noodle stall, and she gossips to

ACLEDA trainers about a new idea in chicken porridge ("a market niche," says

Phonnary); other women tell how they are making up to 40,000 riel ($16) a day in

their businesses.

And everyone, without exception, says of course they

always have that concern that they have to repay the loan each

fortnight.

ACLEDA main lending however is in US dollars to small

enterprises.

Math Yousos, 45, who lost both legs in a car accident, is

now the owner of a thriving motorbike repair shop, thanks to two loans totaling

$500.

He's a good mechanic, and the engine-driven compressor he brought

to start off his expanded shop is in better condition now than when he got it

two years ago.

Business is now so busy that sometimes "I can't keep up,"

he said.

Now earning $120 a month, he can afford to send all his five

children to school.

Two years ago he struggled to have enough money for

food. A friend suggested he go to ACLEDA after becoming worried as to how the

Yousos family could survive.

Yousos said he always worried about repaying

the loan. Though he had plans for further expansion he thought himself now too

old and his health too poor.

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