Manju & Manju Video Report
For this month’s newsletter we asked our splendid India Project Manager, Mr. Suraj Kumar, to interview two of our 300 Blossom Bus girls. Suraj, very sweetly, chose Manju and Manju! Manju from Dhamaka village and Manju from Bhattki village. Dhamaka’s Manju has an older sister, Madhu, who is also riding everyday to school on the Blossom Bus. Bhattki’s Manju will be the first woman in her family to graduate high school, an accomplishment her parents are extremely proud of. Nothing better than hearing these extraordinary young women tell their stories themselves!
Manju from Dhamaka Village
Manju from Bhattki Village
In the beginning of May, LO’s President, Patty Waltcher and Elise De Grande, Executive Director, were invited to Impact Giving’s annual event, where the Blossom Bus was awarded a US$30,000 grant. We at Lotus Outreach are deeply grateful for Impact Giving’s incredibly generous support. Ahead we go, Blossom Bus blooms!
Suen Sokpoan - A Teacher in the Making
An hour away from the World Heritage site of Angkor-Watt, lives Suen Sokpoan. Her and her family’s story is one of aspiration for one’s children to be free from the poverty that has gripped a family for too long. While we assume a warm bed and dry shelter as a right, Sokpoan’s entire family of 7 sleeps under a mosquito net on one wooden bed with only a thin reed mat between them and the earthen floor. The thatched reed roof leaks in the rainy season, the walls are not closed, and snakes and insects have free run of their home.
Sokpoan is one of 188 girls receiving scholarship through Lotus Outreach’s Girl’s Access to Education (GATE) program in Siem Reap. 15km of rough rural roads lie between her home and Kampong Kdey High School and so she is offered stay at one of seven GATE residence homes. The residence is only 2km from the high school, a distance she can easily cover daily on the bicycle provided by the Lotus Pedals program. Sokpoan also began receiving monthly rice support because of her family’s extreme poverty.
Sokpoan’s parents spend 50% of their meager income on their children’s schooling, evidence of their commitment and hope in their children’s future. When asked why, Sokpoan’s mother Dep Roan tells us, “Due to Pol Pot and poverty we were not educated. We don’t have anything much to leave our children so we struggle to educate them in the hope that they’ll be able to support themselves with knowledge rather than hard labor.”
The hard truth is that without GATE scholarship support, Sokpoan would not be able to attend school. Although her parents are deeply committed to their children’s education, their income would not be enough to send her, and all her siblings, all the way through high school. She would have left school to work full time in the rice fields. Instead, last year she achieved third place in her class of 52 and passed her National Board exam into high school.
She and her family are very proud of her achievements. Sokpoan tells us, “My favorite subject is Khmer literature and I want to become a teacher in Khmer Literature and Ethics.” It seems a modest dream to us, but education is the only bridge between the relatively gentle, sheltered life of a schoolteacher and the hard unyielding work of a farm laborer.
With continued support, Sokpoan will doubtless be able to graduate high school and go on to the teacher-training program at the Provincial town of Siem Reap. Lotus Outreach is committed to doing all that’s possible to make that happen!
Tuy Sieb Starts a Business
Tuy Sieb, 25, is recently divorced from her abusive husband. Sieb’s former husband has taken 2 of their 3 hectares of ancestral land and all their savings. He refuses to part with half, as is customary, or anything for that matter. They remain in a legal battle but with no land titles or documentation; it’s not clear what the outcome will be.
Back in November 2012, Sieb took refuge at Lotus Outreach’s shelter for survivors of rape, trafficking and domestic violence. While she stayed at the shelter for nearly six months, Sieb received sewing skills training and was offered a small business startup grant of $200 to help her get back on her feet.
Sieb’s first venture was reselling produce. She bought sweet cakes made in Thailand but didn’t account for the rainy season and perishable nature of the product and lost $40. Next, she bravely jumped into making dried fish but she cut off the fish heads which should have been included and which reduced the weight of the final product. She couldn’t make a profit and suffered a further loss of $100.
Sieb’s third venture is proving more successful and Lotus Outreach Field Director Glenn Fawcett visited Sieb at her home to find out more:
We arrived mid-afternoon to Sieb’s home in Oo Ambaal on the edge of Sisophon town in the Western Cambodian Province bordering Thailand. We could hear that familiar sound, “rat-a-rat-a-rat-a”, of a pedal driven sewing machine as we mounted the broad stairs of Sieb’s stilted wooden home with a corrugated iron roof. Inside, Sieb was working on her garments next to her parents and the usual gaggle of nephews, nieces and sundry neighborhood kids surrounded them.
After Sieb’s initial disappointments from her first two business ventures, it was clear that she would have to make absolutely certain that her next venture was a success. One day, as Sieb sat on her stoop watching life pass by her, she noticed a neighbor returning some garment piecework to a manager and told the neighbor that she could also do some of the sewing piecework for a lower price. The neighbor agreed and pretty soon Sieb was stitching shorts and shirts on piece rates. She’s not very fast as of yet, but it’s a start, and she works 6 hours on most days, which earns her about US$2 a day. This modest income makes a big difference to her and the family at the end of each month and with more practice she will doubtless get faster and generate more income.
Not surprisingly, Sieb says she isn’t going to stop at that. She tells us, “I’m putting money away to start a small grocery store, which I will find more stimulating. It will increase my skill and capacity by having to keep accounts, a budget, and stock in and out.”
Even after all she has endured, you can sense a strong confidence in Sieb, fifth of ten children, forced to leave school at sixth grade to look after her younger siblings, tend pigs, and manage other work while her parents labored wherever they could find work to keep food on the table for a family of 12.
Sieb’s story is by no means unique; many Cambodian women face a similar reality after an abusive relationship. Sieb is tremendously brave to strive to improve her and her family’s circumstances after so much hardship. We are absolutely delighted she’s making the best use of the opportunity provided to her through the Counseling and Reintegration program in establishing an income and standing on her own two feet.
Wells On Their Way in Pursat
In Pursat, 45% of households don’t have access to a safe source of drinking water at, or within 150 meters of their house (Source: CDB 2004). This is an even higher percentage than the Cambodian rate of 34% of households without adequate access to drinking water.
This year Lotus Outreach’s Wells Program has received contributions from individual donors and foundations to drill 19 wells in the drought-prone region of Pursat, Cambodia. Over 2,000 people, almost 40% children under the age 18, will be the direct beneficiaries of these 19 wells. Hundreds of other villagers, who depend on shallow wells or water ponds, will also benefit from the deep-bore wells during the dry season.
Access to clean, safe water protects the villagers from water-related diseases, and the health care costs in treating the illnesses. It increases the time they have for work, study, or leisure, as they do not need to travel the typical long distances by foot to fetch water that is not even safe for consumption.
At the moment 15 wells are being drilled, and the drilling for the remaining 4 wells will take place after the rainy season ends in October. Glenn Fawcett, LO’s Director of Field Operations, visited the drilling site of some of the wells last week. He shared, “In Troporng Village, 149 souls will be served by the well and benefit from the access to clean, potable water close at hand. The villagers are delighting in this change. They haven't had a pump-well within reach since arriving here as refugees in 1992! When I arrived, they were bathing their children at the well even before the work was finished, telling us, 'Until today, we could only bathe our children at the river, 1 km away. And only when we had time to accompany them, for fear they might drown if they were unattended.'"
On behalf of all the families that will be served by these wells, we thank Sara Haq, the Douglas A. Campbell Foundation, Radiant Spirit, the IPA Foundation, DevopsDays NYC, the Rotary Club of Beverly Hills and the Fred and June MacMurray Foundation. One additional well to the 19 in Pursat is in the process of being drilled in Mondulkiri, and we would like to thank once again Shari Cartun for her fundraiser for this well!