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Factory libraries push literacy

Garment workers check and label items of apparel at a factory in Phnom Penh last year. GMAC together with NGO Sipar are working to open 15 libraries in garment factories.
Garment workers check and label items of apparel at a factory in Phnom Penh last year. GMAC together with NGO Sipar are working to open 15 libraries in garment factories. Pha Lina

Factory libraries push literacy

In an effort to encourage literacy among garment factory workers, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) and NGO Sipar are working together to open libraries in 15 factories in the Kingdom in the next three years.

Sipar first launched the project as a pilot program about a year ago, opening libraries in three factories across Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Sipar director Hok Sothik said yesterday.

GMAC has partnered with them for the full-scale project, which will last until at least July of 2018.

“We call them library resources centres,” Sothik said.

“Because we try to put there not only books, but also materials related to different problems related to [topics including] health and hygiene.”

GMAC secretary-general Ken Loo could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The total budget of the project amounts to about $640,000, according to a Sipar project summary.

Half the budget will be paid by Sipar, and the other half by the French Development Agency (AFD).

Each of the additional factories expected to join the project in the next three years will be required to have at least two staffers train with Sipar to help workers who cannot read, Sothik said.

Books and other material at the libraries will largely cater to people with limited reading skills, as many garment workers are from rural areas and received little to no formal education as a child.

Using simple books will also enable workers to quickly read on their lunch breaks.

The idea of placing libraries in garment factories is a good one, because it will make information about health and hygiene more accessible for employees there, said Joel Preston, a consultant at the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC).

However, Preston noted a concern that GMAC’s involvement in it may keep out literature about Cambodia’s labour law and labour unions, he said.

In addition, Preston said, illiterate workers may find it difficult to find time to learn to read, since they tend to be most concerned with making enough money to support their families.

“They have a limited amount of time . . . they have other priorities,” Preston said.

To find the time to learn to read is extremely difficult for people who are in that position.”

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