Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Squatters take charge of their lives

Squatters take charge of their lives

Squatters take charge of their lives

TWO years ago, 129 squatter families near the Chinese

Embassy were told by the Cham-carmon district chief that

they had to move to make way for urban development. Men

Chamnan, head of the Toul Svay Prey Poor Association

conceded to the chief that his members "did not want

to live there," but that they really had no choice.

What they did have was their own organization and their

own bank account.

"We told the district chief that we needed only land

and we could build the houses by ourselves," Men

Chamnan recalls.

The 129 families are scheduled to move to Boeng Kraper,

two kilometers southwest of Phnom Penh, along Veng Sreng

Blvd. Here they will reform as the Meanchay Development

Center for the Poor Association. The new housing project

is organized by the Phnom Penh Municipality and a group

of NGOs: United Nations Centre for Habitat and Settlement

(UNCHS), Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR),

Solidarity for Urban Poor Federation (SUPF), Urban Poor

Development Fund (UPDF), the Urban Resource Center (URC)

and the SAWA engineering consultants.

Men Chamnan observes that his squatter community is

mostly Khmer Krom, plus 30 Khmer and 5 Vietnamese

families.

They work as construction laborers, cake and vegetable

sellers, motorcycle taxi drivers. Together they have

deposited 10 million riels in a community bank account,

each family contributing between 100 to 1,000 riels

daily.

"I have to go every evening to collect money from

the squatter homes in my community," says Men

Chamnan. "I want to show the world and the

government that poor people are not helpless to earn

money to move to another place. We showed them the money

we are earning, so they stopped trying to chase us out

and turned to helping my people and encouraging them to

earn more."

He added that the government previously ignored poor

people but once they recognized the will of the people,

they are now helping to find land for the poor.

The municipality bought the land in Boeung Kraper in

November 1997. The UNCHS provided infrastructure costs

with technical assistance from SAWA for landfill, toilets

and wells. The Urban Resource Center (URS) and Cambodian

Appropriate Technology Development Group (CATDG) provided

housing designs. Each NGO has already constructed two

model homes apiece.

Men Chamnan said legal licenses for the new houses in

Boeng Kraper will be provided by the municipality, while

the Phnom Penh Education Department will help in the

transfer of students to new schools nearby.

At a cost of US$723-749, the new houses can be bought

from savings or through flexible loans arranged by the

Urban Poor Development Fund (UPDF).

Meas Somaly, manager of the UPDF, states that his

organization is providing housing loans to the new

settlers, repayable in five years at 0.66% interest.

Repayment is made at a rate of between 500-2000 riels per

day, depending on the size of the loan.

"I think that people will be able to repay this

amount," he added. Lim Kim Heng, 38, a fish seller

in the Olympic Market is pleased at the prospect of

living in a new home in Boeng Kraper.

She will be able to pay back her housing loan because she

earns between 5,000-15,000 riels per day.

"I will be very happy to have a house here because

the air is fresh and clean," she observes. "At

my old place we lived under a sewage smell."

"We tried to involve the community as such as

posible," observes Hall Goad of the Urban Resource

Center. "They chose the site... and they chose the

housing layout from several different ideas. The site is

good because it is very close to the city residents can

bicycle there and many people already have jobs at

several factories nearby."

Asked why this particular community was being helped,

Goad said that it was because they were very cohesive and

willing to participate in the project.

"You're helping a small number of people in big

way," he commented. "Some communities are

better organized than others. . . You have to pick

particular projects and only those communities who are

motivated."

Compared to the Mong Reth-thy palm oil scheme [see

accompanying story], Goad believes that the Boeung Kraper

project may be more successful in the long term because

of extensive community involvement.

"We're giving a chance for them to develop it

themselves," he observes. "We just give them

some money and some help. They feel [the project] is

theirs, that they built it themselves. It's a better way

to make progress."

Men Chamnan agrees. He notes that here people in Boeung

Kraper can sell their houses, even if they have not yet

repaid their loans and that they are free to choose their

own occupations, rather than being restricted to oil palm

cultivation as in Mong Reththy.

"I hope that the people who move here to live will

not sell their houses," he says. "They need

real houses and now they have them, so why sell?"

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