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Khemara builds leaders

Khemara builds leaders

"Women feel strength in themselves through community development," said

Korm Chamthan, vice director of Khemara, Cambodia's oldest existing NGO. "Men

dominate their wives so we try to make women think, is this because women lack skills

and business skills and motivate them."

Chamthan was speaking at Khemara's office in Wat Otra Wattai in the industrial area

of Russei Keo, north of Phnom Penh. Life was very difficult for women in the area,

she said, as they were very poor and were mostly widows with children. They take

difficult jobs involving heavy lifting, when they can get them, and rampant inflation

in the last few years is making them poorer still.

"These heavy jobs can be very bad for their health, which is already poor,"

Chamthan said, "and with nowhere to leave the children the older ones are kept

out of school to mind the younger ones at home."

Crèches in two villages, run by a rotation of mothers with young women to

help them, have solved that problem. Training in skills and leadership and food processing

means that "their voice may be raised in the community," Chamthan added.

People often ask Chamthan why Khemara's credit program charges interest on group

loans-why not give the women money? "We charge 5 percent, while the rich people

charge 20, so it is easier for them to repay, but it also gives them dignity,"

she said.

Khemara was set up in 1991 and 99 per cent of its staff are women. Its philosophy

is to promote the participation of women-and particularly to build their leadership

skills.

The income generation scheme has been renamed "Women in Business," to reflect

participants newly-acquired confidence. In the past year Khemara has extended its

activities to a rural area of Kompong Speu where silkworm rearing was once an established

industry.

"Before we came (women) were not rearing silkworms, but were going to the mountain

to cut wood. Many of them were sick with malaria as a result. We thought it was important

to the country as well as for the women to revive silkworm breeding," Chamthan

said.

Khemara buys raw silk and takes it to their Russei Keo center and woven into fabric.

"But we plan to train women in weaving in Kompong Speu and have the weaving

done there soon," Chamthan added.

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