In the chaos of 1979, when famine threatened four million survivors of the Khmer
Rouge state, the Association of Cambodian Women was formed to help at the most basic
The most urgent need was to resume food production by families and aid came from
socialist countries and UNICEF.
While aid was being distributed it was discovered that many women had experience
of economic activity and want to use their skills again.
The Association of Cambodian Women started a women in development program, nowrun
by Ma Vanny.
"One family would want to rear ducks, another a fish pond, another weaving silk
or processing sugar," she said.
"We would put the proposal to UNICEF, with a survey of the village and the people's
situation." The association would then distribute aid.
The association is still working with UNICEF and their family food program involves
100,000 women in 230 villages.
"The staff at central level are volunteers and do not get a government salary,
while the 12 members of our mobile team get $3 a day when they are in the provinces,"
said Ma Vanny.
Other programs teach about credit, literacy and hygiene education. Ma Vanny is sure
the status of women and their education level will improve rapidly.
"Many organizations are coming to help and emphasizing that the situation of
women is of crucial importance if living standards are to be improved," she
She thinks the low educational status of women compared to men "is due to their
situation in life".
"Women have many children. There is a shortage of labor in the countryside and
often the schools are three to four kilometers away and difficult to get to,"
Ma Vanny hopes to widen the scope of the development program. Last year she visited
Bangladesh to learn about the highly successful Grameen Bank for poor villagers.
On her return, she started a similar revolving credit scheme in the villages the
The Grameen Bank lends money to individuals within a group. If the loans are repaid
other members of the group are lent money.
The system is self-regulatory and ensures money is nearly always repaid.
Ma Vanny also hopes for greater cooperation between women's groups and she hopes
one will organize a workshop.
"At the moment there is no cooperation between the women's organizations and
many new ones started," she said.