Providing training in English, health programmes and a banking system, the centre helps the ambitious help themselves
Considered painful menial labour and slowly fading from the Cambodian landscape, the cyclo offers a hard life.
Drivers endure turbulent traffic and grimy streets, cacophonous dins, meagre wages and long hours.
However, over the past decade, the Cyclo Centre in Phnom Penh has sought to improve the lives of drivers through outreach and education programmes.
Located on Street 158, the centre provides washing and repair facilities as well as educational programmes in which drivers can hone their skills and improve their lifestyles. Among the courses on offer are English lessons and educational sessions on traffic laws, hygiene and health.
Other services available include haircuts and a “Savings Book” programme that works like a bank, allowing drivers to store their money safely at the centre.
The Cyclo Centre opened some 10 years ago, but it was not until August 2005 that it registered with the Ministry of Interior and became an independent NGO.
The centre now has three full-time teachers along with regular volunteers who act as assistants, facilitating seminars. Some 1,500 cyclo drivers are members of the Cyclo Centre, and membership is free.
Perhaps the most favoured of the programmes are the English language classes taught by native English-speaking volunteers.
Students are tested monthly to observe their progress and determine where they might need extra help.
In addition, course length and schedule is tailored to accommodate the number of interested drivers.
“We provide English language training to all cyclo drivers. It is important for them to communicate with tourists, so we teach them how to communicate, like saying, ‘Where do you want to go?’” explained Nouv Sarany, coordinator of the Cyclo Centre.
Previously, the centre provided vocational training in addition to its existing services, but this ended in 2005 due to a lack of funding.
The training aimed to make cyclo drivers more business-savvy by broadening their skills.
Every two months, seminars are conducted by local health care professionals about health and safety issues relevant to the drivers.
Within the span of four hours, topics such as traffic laws, swine flu, smoking, and HIV/AIDS are covered.
Health-related seminars are conducted by representatives from the World Health Organisation as well as Population Services International.
Nouv Sarany said that she is confident drivers are benefiting from their lessons.
She also said that careful monitoring and evaluation is done because donor organisations are concerned with drivers’ progress.
“We conduct evaluations monthly. We interview drivers. Our donors need the evaluation to know that the education is working,” Nouv Sarany said.
She added: “A lot of people in Cambodia like to smoke a lot. But 40 percent to 50 percent of our drivers [who have attended the anti-smoking seminars] have stopped smoking and are able to save money and send it back to their families.”