Recruiting villagers to study in the sewing program at Human and Hope Association (HHA) is no easy feat. The staff at this grassroots organisation based in Siem Reap, Cambodia, have to spend weeks on end driving around dozens of villages, promoting the benefits of training and conducting assessments. Well, usually, that is. Over the past few weeks TEN villagers have approached Human and Hope Association to be part of their seventh generation of sewing students due to the increasing popularity of the program. People are seeing the advantages of the ten-month sewing program at HHA, and they want to be a part of it.
The sewing program at HHA has developed substantially over the past three years, and now they retain 100% of their students who study with them. These students learn for three hours a day, five days a week. They take care of a garden at HHA and receive rice and vegetables as a stipend for studying to ensure their families are well-fed. On Fridays they study life skills and learn about topics such as domestic violence, marriage laws, anger management, job skills and hygiene.
Over the course of ten months they learn everything from how to use a sewing machine, to making school uniforms, to designing their own traditional ceremony tops.
After studying in the program for three months the students have the opportunity to take out a microfinance loan with HHA. They purchase a machine to practice their lessons at home and begin fixing and making clothes for their neighbours. They begin repayments six months after first receiving the machine so that they are confident in their ability and are not pressured to pay back their loans straight away. This microfinance program has maintained a 100% repayment rate over the past three years.
Upon graduating, armed with a diverse set of skills, HHA’s students seek employment in sewing shops, run sewing businesses from their homes or are hired by HHA to make products for a fair wage. Just last week HHA introduced refresher workshops, with students participating in monthly workshops for five months after they graduate, to ensure they continue to develop their skills in Cambodia.
Around 95% of the students in HHA’s sewing program are female. Women in Cambodia face many issues, particularly with gender equality and roles. This program is incredibly empowering for the women who study as they learn that they have the ability to stand on their own two feet, and a voice to stand up for their rights. This program not only allows women to learn a skill and earn a wage, but it also gives the students confidence, and promotes independence.
Take for example, Chomrong, a third generation sewing student. A mother of three children, Chomrong was only able to study until grade seven because of poverty in her family. She began working as a builder, earning just 88 cents a day. She eventually got married and moved to Siem Reap. Her husband was also a builder, but they didn’t earn enough money to feed their family properly. As a result, their children would fall sick often and they would be pushed further into poverty because of the hospital fees.
In 2014 Chomrong began studying sewing at HHA. Not only did she learn how to sew, she also studied life skills and was more confident to stand up to her husband. Her son began studying in HHA’s preschool program and he learnt Khmer, hygiene and good habits while her daughter studied English.
Chomrong took a loan to buy a sewing machine through HHA’s microfinance program and set up her own business at her home. She began to be well-known in her village for her high quality work. For that reason, HHA also hired Chomrong to be their seamstress, giving her an extra source of income.
In 2015 Chomrong graduated from HHA’s sewing program. She paid off her first loan and took out a second loan to buy a hemming machine. Business is going so well that Chomrong and her husband are currently building a new house, replacing the wooden/bamboo structure they have lived in for so long.
Chomrong regularly speaks at HHA’s events to promote their programs to the community and show them how her life was transformed with commitment and hard work.
“My future is brighter than before, and I am so happy that now I can provide for my kids.”
It costs $800USD to place one marginalised villager in the ten-month sewing program at Human and Hope Association and the subsequent workshops.
Human and Hope Association need your support to fund 12 villagers in the seventh and eighth generations of their sewing program, so please make a tax deductible donation today! https://www.villageearth.org/global-affiliates/human-and-hope-association