I ride in the passenger seat of ADDA’s company car. An hour outside Siem Reap we turn off the pavement and head down potholed dirt roads. Wooden stilt houses and flooded green rice paddies flank the sides. The villages become smaller and more remote. I think of how few travelers venture here (too busy touring the Angkor temples). Despite visible poverty, it’s refreshing to witness Cambodian lifestyle not centered on tourism.
I’m accompanied by three women: Visal, the gender specialist at ADDA, a native Cambodian working toward her master’s degree who wishes she could study abroad; Sophie, a Danish summer trainee/intern at ADDA; and Leng, also a Cambodian and employee of ADDA.
We arrive at Doun Diev village. Seventeen men and women wait for us under a thatched roof. Their smiles beam, masking the hardship of village life. They greet us and maintain eye contact, laughing and chatting with each other – all indications of an empowered group of women. Visal tells me when ADDA began working with this group in 2007 the women were reserved and timid. Three years later, they exude confidence.
This group is part of ADDA’s Integrated Women’s Empowerment Project Phase I (IWEP I). The objective of IWEP is to train villagers in agricultural science, provide access to micro-enterprise and form self-help groups. The groups are 80-85% women, simply because men didn’t attend meetings. In Cambodia, females run the household and males typically work away from home so this program was more conducive to female participation.
Between 2006-2009, IWEP I trained a total 6,236 people in groups of 10-25 villagers. Over a course of 3-4 months, villagers learned the most effective ways to grow vegetables and raise animals. ADDA teaches “safe” farming so they learn to make Bio pesticide, which uses tree bark and chili peppers instead of chemicals. Low literacy makes hands-on experience crucial to the villagers’ education. Groups access capital from local MFIs and provide microloans to members. The women borrow at 2% interest per month to buy seeds or livestock. They can borrow at 0% interest for emergency purposes such as sickness and severe accidents.
The women of Doun Diev openly admit their sense of empowerment since the program began. Initially, their husbands rejected their participation in IWEP. But their spouses’ attitudes changed as the women contributed to the family income and provided a steady food supply. The group has weekly gatherings and many women say their husbands now offer to watch the kids during these meetings.
They also discuss domestic abuse, a prevalent issue in Cambodian households. Women report increased respect from spouses and local authorities because they are now “productive” members of society. Also, the growth of agricultural projects produced more labor opportunities for their husbands. This meant less time for the men to get drunk together, translating to less abuse at home.
Isn’t it interesting that 3-4 months of skilled training can result in empowerment, stability, confidence, and a safer environment for village women?
ADDA is currently implementing the second phase of IWEP, which has added 430 people to their training program. With a present total of 102 village groups, they aim to reach 150 by 2013. ADDA is a Danish organization that works in Cambodia, Vietnam and Tanzania. IWEP is specific to Cambodia. You can find more information at http://www.adda.dk/adda_in_english.html or email email@example.com to learn how you can support their work.
Thank you to Visal, Sofie, Leng and Pich Sophin at ADDA in Siem Reap for allowing me to shadow their work and taking the time to answer all my questions.