Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Model for Success: Kamonohashi Project, Siem Reap Province, Cambodia

While in Seim Reap Province, Cambodia I had the extreme pleasure of visiting a Japanese NGO’s women’s economic empowerment project called Kamonohashi Project. Their Mission is to provide handicraft training and life skills so that the villagers can be independent through sustainable employment in community factories. The project aims to reduce poverty levels, and prevent commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking in the country.
Sexual exploitation and human trafficking is a major problem in Cambodia. Because of a lack of education and skills training, women have inadequate employment opportunities and are often vulnerable to exploitation. Efforts like the Kamonohashi Project’s community factory employment and the Willow Tree Roots’ Seeds of Success Project entrepreneurialism aim to counter the causes of sexual exploitation and human trafficking by providing women with sustainable opportunities. When I arrived at the Kamonohashi Project I was wonderfully greeted by the Production Department Manager Vuthik Suong. She explained that the project targeted three areas to combat poverty and exploitation in the community: skills training, life skills and jobs. I found particularly inspirational their efforts to train the women in life skills as the lack of such made it easy for the women to be exploited.
In addition to training the women on how to make products using traditional Khmer techniques from woven grass, they prepare the women for factory employment by providing them with a “salary”, requiring them to complete official forms to request leave time, and by providing them with incentives on top of their salary (attendance bonus, performance bonus and my favorite the “attitude” bonus for promoting a positive work environment).
They encourage the women to bring their nursing children to the project site and even have a childcare area.The work day is 6 ½ hours and women with children are provided with one hour to spend with their children in the childcare area (which is automatically included in her 6 ½ hour day).
Often times the women go without eating, opting instead to use the money for their family. To ensure that the women have some meals, they offer a meal program three times a week free of charge. This ensures that the women have some source of food.
The program was very much welcomed by the Chief of the commune, who recognized the importance of providing sustainable economic opportunities to the women of the very poor community. Such a welcome reception is rare in the communities, as the male Chief’s often do not promote such opportunities for their women. But so dedicated to uplifting his community is this Chief, that he allows the project to utilize the space free charge.
The project initially faced challenges in the community. At first, the community did not trust the Japanese nonprofit. They feared that the project would not last long and therefore could not provide the women with sustainable employment opportunities on an ongoing basis. They did not understand what benefit it would have to the community as a whole. To alleviate these concerns, the project provided workshops to the community to explain to them the benefits and to build trust. They explained about their mission, the benefits of women being income-earners. The also educated the community to ethical working conditions and how to manage money.
Now, the project trains over 100 women and has only a 10% attrition rate. The products from the women in the project are now sold through Siem Reap and provide a further source of income. The project is now expanding to India where they hope to help women there become independent through sustainable employment.

Friday, November 28, 2014

What Is "Socioeconomic Empowerment" for a Woman? Part 1

Socioeconomics empowerment is a combination of a woman’s freedom, power and access to resources in her home, place of employment and community. The following questions can be asked to evaluate a woman’s socioeconomic position within a community:

  1. Do you feel like you have a say in household decision-making, such as how and what to spend money on regarding your family’s food, education and health?
  2. Do you feel like you have a voice acquiring, allocating, and selling assets such as property, transportation or other major purchases?
  3. Do you feel like your daughters and the young girls in your family have same access to the same quality and level of education as their male counterparts?
  4. Do you feel like you have a choice in your own reproductive and fertility decisions?
  5. Do you feel like you have a choice in how land that affects you is used and conserved?
  6. Do you feel like you are safe from violence in your home?
  7. Do you feel like you are safe from violence In your community?
  8. Do you feel like you have access to the education, training and technology you desire?
  9. Do you feel like you have access to knowledge about your legal rights as a woman in your community?
  10. Do you feel like you have access to general health and reproductive health care?
  11. Do you feel like you have access to equal wages in your job?
  12. Do you feel like you have equal access to credit and financial loans?
  13. Do you feel safe at work and free from violence, harassment and discrimination?
  14. Do you feel like you have a voice in the decision-making process in your community and government?

Although this list of questions is by no way exclusive, I believe it is a good starting point to analyze the issue.  Over the next coming months I will be asking these questions of the women Willow Tree Roots serve in an effort to best determine how our programs can help these amazing women.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Over the summer, Willow Tree Roots founder Tiffani Sharp visited with the women who provide the amazing jewelry products for Mama Willow Tree. She was pleased to have met with Catherine from the Namayiana Maasai Women’s Group. The group provides Mama Willow Tree with most of the amazing jewelry currently featured a Mama Willow Tree.

At the time it was drought season in the region where the Maasai community is located, which generally lasts from June until October. It had not rained for months and the ground was extremely dry. Catherine indicated that the ground is so dry that the livestock to not have food to eat and are essentially eating dirt. Since the cows were not eating anything of value, they are also not producing milk, which makes it difficult to survive during this season. During these months it is also a slow time for their jewelry sales and therefore there is little income coming into the community. In order for the girls in the community to receive an education (which is one of the reasons the group was formed) they must be sent to a different village. This comes at a financial burden to most in the community, particularly during these months of economic strain. But, at least when the girls are away at school receiving an education, the families have one less mouth to feed.

In addition to obtaining more items for Mama Willow Tree, Catherine was able to provide founder Tiffani Sharp with amazing insight into their lives by sharing a remarkable story of the impact your support has had on this community. When the Maasai women recieved the Mama Willow Tree order, drought season was upon them. One woman who had been paid to produce some of the items for the order asked Catherine “who is this Tiffani? Mama Willow?” She explained to Catherine that before receiving the order and her portion of payment, that her husband had considered the possibility of having one of their daughters killed because they could not afford to send her to school and they could not afford for her to remain in the village during the period of extreme drought. And that her portion of payment for the order had come just in time and that she used to money to send her daughter to school the very next day, thereby avoiding the need for the family to make a dire decision regarding this young girl’s life.

The impact that support for these women has on the lives of these in the community, particularly the women and children are profound and rippling. Thank you!