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Center's helping hand

Center's helping hand

Cyclo drivers are reckoned to be one of Phnom Penh's most disadvantaged groups:

low wages, long periods of absence from home, poor living conditions and

loneliness are among the problems common to many. However, a small organization

tucked away down a sidestreet near the Russian Market is making things a little

easier.

The Cyclo Center provides a savings scheme, health care, health

education, English lessons, a library, vocational training, a repair workshop,

laundry facilities, personal hygiene products and even haircuts for any cyclo

drivers who care to drop by, says coordinator Meas Kim Seng.

"Just about

everything the cyclo driver needs he can find at the Cyclo Center," he says.

"Previously drivers were unable to speak English but now they can communicate

with foreigners and so can earn more money which they can send to their families

in the provinces." He says the center also provides information about HIV to

cyclo drivers, many of whom don't see their families in the provinces for months

at a time.

The Cyclo Center was established in 1999 by the Urban Resource

Center using money raised from a sponsored cyclo ride to Kampong Som. Its

purpose is to support cyclo drivers and provide a place where they can meet,

share ideas and find information.

The center estimates there are between

2,500 and 3,500 cyclo drivers in Phnom Penh. Around 600 drivers belong to the

Cyclo Center, 90 of whom have joined the savings scheme into which they pay some

of their meager daily earnings of as little as 2,000 riel (US

$0.50).

Cyclo driver and dedicated saver Kang Noch reaches into a woven

basket piled with savings books and opens one to show an impressive row of neat

figures. The concept of saving money, he says, was new to him.

"In

Cambodia I don't think about the future. If I have money, then I will spend it,"

he says. "But now many of us here have money saved and it makes it more

difficult to spend."

He also has a new green cyclo emblazoned with

anti-smoking advertising. It is one of ten provided by the National Center for

Health Promotion on credit. Noch will pay the cyclo off at 1,000 riel a day for

200 days. Life as a cyclo driver may be tough, he says, but he has no doubt the

Cyclo Center has made things a little easier.

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