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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Brook with JWOC's loan recipients

While visiting Cambodia earlier this month, I had the opportunity to meet some of JWOC’s loan recipients.

Here are their stories:

Kheng Lerb lives in a small, thatch-walled house with her husband and eight—that’s right, eight—children. She operates a makeshift general store on her porch, selling skewered chicken wings, oranges, bananas, cigarettes, and other small goods. Before she received her first loan from JWOC seven months ago, she also had to collect recyclable cans and bottles in order to make ends meet. Lerb heard about the program from one of the Dollars for Scholars students, and eagerly applied so that she could expand her business. She’s now on her way to paying back her second loan, of $125. I asked her what she’s done with the extra money she now earns. Her father was sick several months ago, she told me, and she had to pay $300 in medical bills—sadly, however, the treatment could not prevent his death. But she also proudly showed me a silver bracelet that she’d bought for herself. A rare reward for a life’s worth of hard work, I thought to myself. When I asked her what she pictured in her future, she told me that she wanted a university education for her kids, and a better house for herself.
Meas Sreipech, the scholarship student who was collecting loan repayments for JWOC and translating for me, then brought me to the house of Tarb Chour. As we talked, Chour related a heartbreaking story. One of her sons had lost his wife during childbirth several years ago. The son gave up his single son for adoption, then left his four daughters with Chour’s sister back in their home village. With the children all off his hands, Chour’s son remarried and ran away. He doesn’t send a penny back to help raise the girls, so Chour and her sister must support her granddaughters themselves. Because of the loans she’s taken out from JWOC to expand her own small food and dried goods stall, Chour hopes that one day the girls may be able to attend university, something she was never given the chance to do.
Sitting next to Chour was Soeurn Srey, a meat and vegetable retailer in the same village. Hers was a happier story. She bought her own house one month ago—one bigger than her previous rental—with some of the extra money she’s earned since getting a JWOC loan five months ago. She’s also saved $500 for the motorbike and cart that she’d like to buy to sell fish snacks around town (the total cost will be $800).
It’s amazing what $100—the amount that you or I might send on a moderately extravagant dinner—can do in a place like Cambodia. There are numerous other stories just like these three among the recipients of JWOC’s microloans.

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