Srey Mach demonstrates the importance of Non-Formal Education benefits that cannot be measured, like confidence, as well as the close bond that NFE students develop with project manager Sokhorn. Although she finished the course in 2007, our staff is still in touch with her and easily arranged an interview during our visit in December.
“The NFE course had a profound impact on my life journey,” says Mach, who is now married and eight months pregnant. “Before NFE I was aimlessly going from one thing to another. The course helped me to think for myself, taught me how to set goals and to understand what steps were required to reach them.”
Mach, just 15 years old in 2007, was struggling to help pay off her family’s $2,000 debt through the only work she could find at a seedy karaoke bar in Phnom Penh. She heard about a new program called NFE and decided she had to make time for it. Focusing primarily on math and sewing skills, she was able to qualify for a position at a garment factory, which she found with the help of Sokhorn.
“I needed to find acceptance and be valued,” says Mach, “and I realized I would have to achieve my goals to win that.”
A career change was the first of many goals Mach has since set and achieved for herself. She worked and saved at the garment factory for a year before returning to her home village at Odor Meanchey to set up a food stall with her mother. Eventually, though, the $100 monthly rent for the premises proved too burdensome, and they closed it.
Mach returned to Phnom Penh for long, hard hours at another garment factory, but she was able to recover from the food stall setback. Today she still works in the garment business, but closer to home where she is able to help her mother run her new restaurant. This time, they’re using space owned by a relative, and rent is more manageable. Her mom clears $140 a month, and the family eats their meals there, as well.
Mach’s earnings have increased, too, from $100 to anywhere between $140 - $160 a month. Her sister, Raksmey, who also completed the NFE course with her, is making almost the same. Always reinvesting in her future, Mach recently spent $150 on an advanced tailoring course and she has already started selling her own clothes.
“I now plan to do more tailoring training so after the baby is born,” says Mach. “I can make the very best clothes I can and will continue to help my mother’s business.”
There’s no reason to doubt that she will succeed. Together in the last five years, the three women have paid off the family debt, sold their house and bought a plot of land, built a new house and just recently bought a motorcycle. After recounting everything that has changed in the last few years, Mach remarks, “ I feel that I have now achieved the recognition I was looking for, and feel proud of myself, who and what I am.”
Current NFE students we met the day before told us that for the first time they could think and analyze for themselves. They felt they had been given a rudder to steer through life, where before they were floating aimlessly. We hope you share our enthusiasm at having given such an opportunity to Srey Mach. You are providing the same chance to dozens of others today through your generosity. Thank you for believing in this project!
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One of 13 children, You Sok Khea never had the chance to attend school in her native Kampong Cham province. Having spent her childhood helping her mother raise her siblings, her first taste of independence came after she moved to Phnom Penh as an adult and found restaurant work.
A few years later as a wife and mother of four, Sok Khea assumed reading and writing were opportunities that had long since passed her by. Yet her hopes sprang back to life in March when we opened up our NFE class in Tuol Song Kae, not far from her home. She enrolled at the first chance and has excelled, currently ranking fifth in a class of 21 students.
The course and its teachers have exposed Sok Khea to thoughts and ideas that felt well out of reach just a few months ago, quickly raising the bar beyond the basic skills of primary education. One lesson that got her wheels turning was on a cassette called “Keys to Success and Leadership”. Inspired, she enlisted the help and guidance of her teachers to open a small grocery. Today, she runs a successful business out of her house and continues to attend NFE, eager for all it has to offer.
“Before I didn’t know how to calculate so people could cheat me easily,” remembers Sok Khea. “But I’m different now! I can not only read, write and do math, but I can think, analyze and even run a business. I owe a great deal to the program – I don’t know how to thank you enough."
We couldn't have said it better ourselves. On behalf of Sok Khea and all of our NFE students, we thank you for your support and wish you a happy and safe holiday season!
The totals are in for the first half of 2011! We currently have 108 students in our Non-Formal Education classes, with 94 women, 80 former or current entertainment workers and 31 vulnerable children. The story of 22 year-old Korn Srey Neat demonstrates the type of outcome we hope to achieve for each and every one of them.
Born in Tra village of Prey Veng province, Srey Neat is the second of five children. Her mother, a widower, is employed as a cleaner in a factory but makes only a meager wage. Srey Neat quit her garment factory job in January 2010 to earn more money at Srey Sros karaoke bar, where she began attending our NFE class.
Srey Neat proved to be a strong student, and passed the final exam in January of 2011. In March, she attended sewing training with our local partner, Khemara, where she learned about tailoring training opportunity another NGO that specializes in rehabilitating victims of trafficking. LO and Khemara collaborate with AFESIP to refer NFE students to tailoring apprenticeships, and Srey Neat showed keen interest in the program.
She set her sights on entering the course in June, yet she would need money to live on during her apprenticeship at AFESIP’s training center. To save enough would require a great deal of discipline and sacrifice, and she questioned whether this was the right move for her. She called upon her friends and clients for advice.
Almost universally they encouraged her to take the opportunity, reminding her that karaoke work held no future or promise. Quite the opposite, they said, it was an unhealthy atmosphere where she was and always would be expected to drink in excess while entertaining karaoke clients.
So Srey Neat opened a bank account and spent the first half of this year saving her money, even convincing two of her younger friends to do the same. With the support of peers, she felt confident enough to leave Srey Sros.
Unfortunately her boss, the owner of the karaoke bar, held a different point of view. He forbid her to go and told NFE program staff not to help his employees find other work. It took some doing, but our officers discretely continued to help Srey Neat get accepted to the AFESIP apprenticeship.
That’s where she is today, thanks to the encouragement and faith of so many people – including you! The NFE program would not be possible without the support of our donors, so on behalf of Srey Neat and 108 new students just like her, we thank you sincerely.
Our director of field operations, Glenn Fawcett, shares his experience on a recent visit to one of our Non-Formal Education classes at Srey Sros karaoke bar:
At a new NFE beauty skills training class in Phnom Penh, we asked the students if we could take their photos and share their stories, or if they would prefer anonymity. I was struck by 21 year-old Heng’s dignity and determination as she said in no uncertain terms, “I am very proud of myself and have no problem with my identity being revealed. I don’t care about those that would discriminate against sex workers. I’m not doing sex work because I want to, but only to support my family.”
Another student who lives and works at the karaoke bar, Srey Pov, until this point was hesitant to let us reveal her identity. But a few minutes into taking photos, the 20 year-old also let us know that she would also like to have her picture taken from the front with no need to hide her identity. Srey Pov is working to support her mother who suffered internal hemorrhaging.
Whether looking after parent’s health, sending their siblings to school or caring for their own children, most of the more than 20 women and girls working at this bar are only doing so to make ends meet. Only two of them even have bank accounts, and none of them are stacking cash away.
Heng and Pov are paying $100 in installments to do the beauty skills training, which they fund by entertaining men at the karaoke bar. The course is run by a qualified beautician who learned her trade in Banteay Meanchey at her sister’s salon. Now she lives in at Srey Sros to teach these young women a range of beauty skills, including how to deliver a comprehensive wedding package, preparing them for a lucrative business - wealthier Cambodians spend a great deal of money on weddings.
Some very drunken customers arrived before the class was over, giving us a taste of what the mood must be like there when the “karaoke” bar is running. The men were not ready to wait while their chosen girls finished class, and instead demanded to be entertained immediately. The latent aggression was evident as they wandered between us with no concern for the fact we were there working or that the girls were busy. I thought to myself if this can happen at lunch time in broad daylight, the mood must be horrific at night when the house is working full speed.
Sensing a dangerous mood, the women and girls moved quickly to serve the men, quickly finishing up the class and running to get their makeup and hair done. Some slipped into tight fitting, short skirts to quickly change gears from sleepy premises into nightclub mode.
We left feeling great pride in the courage these young women show in the face of extraordinary adversity. We were thankful to be able to give them a lift up on their road to the simple, dignified family life they crave.
The youngest of eight children, Khorn Bopha went to live with her grandparents in Kompong Cham province at age four after her parents’ contentious divorce. She was mocked and derided by the people in her new village, who looked down on her for having been abandoned. Although her grandparents were kind and cared for her, she felt like an outcast and in the sixth grade she dropped out of school to work in the fields by her aging guardians.
At age 17 and with few ties to sever, Bopha struck out on her own. She found a restaurant job in a nearby province earning $50 a month, but when a friend suggested they move to Phnom Penh for better opportunities Bopha saw little to lose. She found work at a restaurant called Suon Bopha, the location of one of our Non-Formal Education classes.
Bopha took full advantage of the literacy and vocational classes made available at her place of employment. Her work was difficult and left her vulnerable to harassment by customers, but she stayed on for eight months taking classes and strengthening her skill set. Finally confident she could qualify for something better, she asked the NFE program manager to help her find a new job.
As luck would have it, a security position was open at a local factory paying almost twice Bopha’s restaurant salary. She applied, and this past December Bopha began her new job. Although she now has more security, she continues to take sewing classes with NFE to keep her options for upward mobility open. We thank you, our donors, for the hope and dignity your gifts make possible for believers like Bopha.
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