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.