Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Fashioning a way out of poverty

Fashioning a way out of poverty

Fashioning a way out of poverty


Local businesswomen aim to empower their underprivileged sisters

Keo Pisey: "This is the first time I have got involved in a social issue to help other people."

Rather than wring their hands and lament the lost dignity of young Cambodian women

forced by circumstances into low-paid labor or the sex industry, two Khmer businesswomen

and a local movie star are doing something to help.

Tith Sowathy and Lou Bonary have started Neary Khmer Organization (NKO) in Phnom

Penh. Its purpose is to teach fashion design and life skills to young women as the

first step toward independent retail businesses.

According to Sowathy, poverty and lack of education are driving thousands of Cambodian

women into low paying labor jobs or worse, the sex trade.

"The problem is huge, and we are small, but we believe we can make a difference

to a few," Sowathy said .

Sowathy, formerly the director of Sarika Film Productions, now owns the Modern Design

Class, a fashion design training center. Bonary is an overseas trade and tourism

consultant with her business, Washington Ly Corporation.

Actress Keo Pisey will assist as a volunteer trainer. All will give their time freely

and contribute financially to the cause.

They are seeking support for a fund to provide annual scholarships for 100 Cambodian

women.

"The dignity of women is vanishing," Sowathy says. "In the past young

women could survive by working in traditional, family-based farming where they were

taught good morals by their parents and grandparents. Many have been forced by rural

poverty into garment factories, bars and brothels. They grow up carrying a social

stigma that causes problems when it comes time to marry."

Bonary said NKO plans to spend $22,000 per year running two six-month training courses,

each for 50 women. Trainees will be taught to design and make high-value clothing

and accessories, such as shoes and wallets. They will be encouraged to have self-esteem,

help each other, be educated about money management, morality and kindness, traditional

culture, and personal health awareness, including HIV/AIDS prevention.

The NKO directors will use their business and social connections to promote sales

of goods made by the trainees. Sowathy's customers include the wives and daughters

of high-ranking government officials. One of her popular silk dresses costs $180.

She said NKO hopes to install about 50 tailoring machines by January. They have four

volunteer trainers confirmed.

The scholarships are too small to support trainees full time; they will need to use

their free time to attend the courses, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., six days a week.

Graduates demonstrating commitment and ability will be provided with small ($100-500),

interest-free loans to start their own businesses.

"We don't expect all the women in the courses to meet the skill standards, but

at least by aiming to have two good designers from each course is better than doing

nothing," said Sowathy.

Keo Pisey said she will spend as much of her free time as possible at the courses.

"At this early stage I do not know exactly what I am going to do, because this

is the first time I have got involved in a social issue to help other people,"

said Pisey. "I will persuade my colleagues to support NKO for the improvement

of Khmer women."

MOST VIEWED

  • Analyst: Rainsy blocked from boarding flight 'an excuse'

    THAI Airways not allowing Sam Rainsy on its route from Paris to Bangkok on Thursday is being used as an excuse to keep his standing among fellow coup plotters and his uninformed supporters as flights to non-Asean countries are available, an analyst said on Friday.

  • Rainsy lands in Malaysia

    Cambodian opposition figure Sam Rainsy arrived in Kuala Lumpur airport on Saturday afternoon after boarding a flight from Paris, where he has been living for more than four years. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesperson Koy Kuong said on Saturday that Cambodia respected

  • Touch: Rainsy will never return

    Sam Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has claimed it has achieved 70 per cent of its struggle to find a solution to the current political situation in the Kingdom. Just before boarding a plane at Charles de Gaulle

  • Sokha continues call for dropping of charge after bail conditions reduced

    Not satisfied with having his bail conditions reduced, allowing him to travel freely in Cambodia, Kem Sokha says he wants his charge totally dropped. “As an innocent man who has been in detention for two years even without being found guilty, I continue to demand

  • MEPs' call for Rainsy's safety not European Parliament position

    The European Parliament said on Friday that a statement by 56 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) calling for guarantees of Sam Rainsy’s freedom and safety should he return to Cambodia did not represent its position. Delphine Colard, the European Parliament’s press officer told

  • Sar Kheng: Rainsy return not blocked

    Minister of Interior Sar Kheng clarified that Cambodia had never blocked Sam Rainsy from returning to the Kingdom. However, he said Cambodia reserved the right to take legal action as allowed by law against activities aimed at destroying the Kingdom. “No one blocked the return