Stories of Change
Teamwork, in business and marriage
Hong Khoeun, 55, and her husband Sim Kheang, 60, live in Kam Prak village in northern Cambodia. Their daughter, Chrang, is in seventh grade at a secondary school in a village about 12 miles from their home. She lives in a dormitory during the school week.
In 2012, CWS began working with vulnerable families in Kam Prak to better understand their goals as a family and support their needs. The family joined as a household partner, and Khoen in particular became an active participant in the CWS program. Chrang, who was in primary school at the time, received the supplies and uniforms that her parents could not afford so that she could attend the village primary school.
Like most household partners, Khoeun wanted access to information, education and training to improve her knowledge and skills. The family also needed financial support and material resources so they could start to improve their lives by having a better livelihood. Khoeun and Kheang set “running a small business” as their household development goal, and CWS agreed to give Khoeun a start-up grant of $35. She opened a business to sell cakes that she baked with all locally-sourced ingredients, including the flour that her husband milled for her.
Khoeun also learned more about vegetable gardening and received seeds and tools from CWS to start a home garden. Kheang was mainly responsible for managing the garden as a way to expand their income through selling vegetables. Before too long, all sales – cakes and vegetables – were netting about $2.50 a day, and Khoeun used her new money management skills from the CWS-led training programs to make sure she saved half of their profits.
In 2014, Khoeun and Kheang opened a small grocery shop, which continues to thrive three years later. They are strong partners in the business and in family life. They can now afford to pay for Chrang’s schooling. In the past couple years, Khoeun has managed the family income so well that they have saved $1,000 – enough to buy 1.5 hectares (3.75 acres) of land for cassava, which is relatively easy to plant and grow and is in high demand. This new venture will help the family further secure its future, which is much brighter now than when they became CWS community partners five short years ago.
These are the cakes that started it all. They are steamed sticky rice cakes with banana filling. Traditionally, Khmer people always prefer to decorate cakes and biscuits at national festivals and cultural ceremonies like Pchum Benn, Khmer New Year and wedding ceremonies. Pchum Benn is one of the most important national holidays in Cambodia and is celebrated for 15 days from early to late September or from late September to early October (depending on the lunar calendar). It is a religious festival in honor of ancestors and – as in many cultures – food plays an important role. Many Cambodians prepare the food overnight and wake up as early as 4 a.m. to begin cooking the dishes they wish to serve at the local watt (Buddhist temple) to appease the spirits of ancestors. With so much food offered every day for 15 days during the festival, these rice cakes are popular because they can be kept for days without spoiling. People make steamed sticky rice cakes filled with bananas, jack fruit or pork. They are wrapped in banana leaves and steamed well. The specialty lies not only in the filling, but in the intricately crafted shape of the banana leaf cover. Num ansom chek, as it’s called in Khmer, is popular at most Cambodian celebrations.