Meet Khorn Vannah: Thriving Textile Entrepreneur
LO’s February newsletter is from beginning to end an homage to the amazing women we have the privilege to work with. We view the relationship between Lotus Outreach and these women as a partnership with them for a better, more just world. The first partner we are honored to present is the tenacious and graceful Khorn Vannah. The inspiring story of 31-year-old Vannah demonstrates the underlying potential of the 45% of Cambodian women that have been denied education. Vannah is part of an entire generation that had no access to education due to the Khmer Rouge’s shutdown of the public school system and execution of 90% of the country’s teachers in the late 1970s. Growing up in the wake of genocide, civil war and foreign occupation, Vannah and her siblings were forced by poverty and political turmoil to spend their childhoods laboring rather than studying.
While many NFE participants are able to better their lives tangibly as a result of the classes, Vannah has used the skills she acquired to improve the livelihood of an entire village. She entered the NFE program in 2011 while working at a brothel in Phnom Penh and swiftly rose to the top of her class. Despite the hardships she endured, the determined Vannah used her spare time constructively and encouraged other girls to also take skill training. In addition to her daily lessons in basic literacy, numeracy and business management, she enrolled in our sewing and tailoring course, which proved to be the foundation for her career as a prolific businesswoman. “When I started NFE, I couldn’t sew a straight line,” shares Vannah. “It was the skills I learned during NFE that have made me the successful tailor that I am today.”
In just a few years, Vannah has managed to invest in 30 weaving looms and four sewing machines, effectively employing 100 local villagers who support as many as 500 people. Her weaving and tailoring workshops are able to maintain a local tradition of silk making, a process that transforms raw materials into vibrantly patterned, hi-quality silk fabrics. Ingenuity and careful business planning have allowed her to employ the bulk of her extended family, and she reflected on how the family no longer has to experience hunger each day. “Every day we used to worry how we would survive. Now I feel very happy knowing we’ll be okay.” Vannah, a single mom of a 6 year-old girl, is now able to earn $200 a month – two times the per capita income in Cambodia – and hopes to buy her first home in the near future. Vannah is also starting up a small retail operation, and recently purchased second-hand blue jeans, which she plans to re-sell with a good margin of profit.
“Our visit with Vannah marked the most interesting and satisfying visit I can remember in many years and hundreds of visits with Cambodian families,” shares Glenn Fawcett, Lotus Outreach’s Director of Field Operations. “Vannah is a warm-hearted and generous boss who pays her employees well and inspires those around her to find the best in themselves. We are so happy to see such a kind and talented person in the midst of great success.”
The Pursuit of Knowledge
Hong Noryrath, a 19 year-old from Siem Reap province, is one of the 89 scholars receiving scholarship support through LO’s GATEways. She has been a recipient of educational scholarship from Lotus Outreach since primary school. Her parents are both farmers, and she has 5 siblings. Noryrath is now a freshman at the Asia Europe University majoring in English Literature. After graduation, she aspires to work in an organization where she can promote English education for poor students so they can be competitive when the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) economic integration comes about.
When she first came to Phnom Penh, Noryrath was introduced to all the different avenues of study that were available. At first she was very introverted and shy. Through her commitment to hard work, as she dived further into her studies and her confidence grew, she was gradually able to excel in the learning areas of her interest and became increasingly outgoing.
While working hard in her academic study, Noryrath attends several, wide-ranging workshops such as ASEAN Economic Integration Preparation, Chinese Development History, and Japanese Studies. On top of that, she is always on the lookout for volunteering opportunities. She recently volunteered with the Help Our Homeland Organization to orchestrate a national level workshop to assist youth after graduation. Noryrath shares, “This volunteer experience taught me helpful skills. I now know how to put a workshop together and set achievable goals.”
Noryrath is a diligent, dedicated student who is constantly eager to improve herself in order to pursue her dream. “My goal has to be achieved because education is a top priority in a country’s development. I will help to develop education in Cambodia. And I am deeply thankful to Lotus Outreach for helping me reach this dream.”
When Lotus Outreach first approached Noryrath, she was a young girl overwhelmed with worry and fear, given her family’s daily struggle for survival. What a privilege it is to witness her blooming into a young woman acutely aware of the power of knowledge, and deeply committed to the advancement of her country. Lotus Outreach is honored to partner with Hong Noryrath.
A Mother's Wish Fulfilled
Khatuni an Assamese migrant labor shares her experience as a mother of four children in the brick-kiln scholarship program:
My name is Khatuni. I am a native of Kamrup district in Assam, North East India. My husband and I and our five children came to Haryana state in search of work because my husband could not find regular work back home. Except for my five-year-old son, all of our children were working in the brick kiln with my husband and me. About a year after arriving in Haryana, Lotus Outreach approached us with an offer to enroll three of my children in school. My children were given school uniforms, bags and shoes.
My three boys were so excited to be able to go to school, and they stayed enrolled until the monsoon season came. When we returned to our home state during the monsoon, I tried to leave the children behind so they could attend the local village school there but my mother-in-law said that she couldn’t care for all of the children while my husband and I were away.
After the monsoon ended, we all traveled back to Haryana. Shortly after we arrived, Lotus Outreach visited the brick kiln and once again offered to help send the children to school. Our children would receive enrollment support, school materials, and transportation to and from the school everyday. This was really important; without the transportation, our children would not be safe while walking on the busy road and vulnerable to harassment by local villagers.
The children at the brick kiln started jumping on the van when they were told they would be able to travel to school in it. Every child in the brick kiln wanted to go to school and the parents were so happy. Three of my children immediately re-enrolled in school. After a while, my six-year-old son also pleaded to go to school with his three older siblings, but I realized that he was more interested in the van ride than his classes!
The children are so happy to go to school. They are not scared of the local villagers and the vehicles plying on the road. The teachers are happy because the children have regular attendance and are very diligent in their schoolwork. My husband was telling my mother-in-law that we might not go back to Assam during the monsoon, as it will hamper the education of our children.
Lotus Outreach’s scholarship opportunities not only benefit the children; they bring assurance to a mother’s wish that their child meets a healthy, safe future. Providing access to education to a child is the fulfillment of a mother’s dream. It is a partnership with her for the development of her child.
When Khatuni and her family first migrated to Haryana, they had given up on any possibility of their children getting a basic education; their fate was decided – Khatuni’s entire family would labor at the brick kilns. The scholarship opportunity flipped fate on its head and empowered Khatuni to give her children a way out of poverty.
Lotus Outreach has been a champion for women’s rights for over 20 years. Our programs, designed to empower women in India and Cambodia, provide: skills training, counseling and reintegration support to survivors of domestic and sexual violence, business training and seed money, potable water sourced by deep-water wells, college scholarships, and support to mothers through offering their children educational opportunities.
The women we work with have all the potential and capability to take ownership of their lives, to be actors of change in their communities. All they need is a vote of confidence and support. Lotus Outreach is that support. We partner with them for a better world. We are honored to collaborate with them.
In celebration of this International Women’s Day, join us in this partnership by making a donation to help Lotus Outreach continue implementing multiple programs that empower, protect and uplift women.
From February 8 to March 8, your donation is matched dollar-for-dollar thanks to a challenge gift from two of Lotus Outreach’s board members, Jenny Chu and Ann Merlini. There are US$7,500 pledged in matching funds. To secure the pledge, we must raise another US$7,500 by March 8.
So far our amazingly generous supporters have raised US$4,071. We have 8 days to raise the remaining US$3,429. If you haven't done so yet, please consider donating and joining us in our support of women in India and Cambodia. Your generosity today will continue bearing fruits for many years to come in the communities that are positively transformed by these extraordinary women.