Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Meet two of our borrowers

JWOC's Microfinance Project has helped hundreds of local small business owners increase their earnings and better provide for their families. Below are profiles of two of our current borrowers. If you would like to donate to the Microfinance Project, please follow this link-

Mai Channa

Channa is 30 years old and runs a food stall outside the Children’s Hospital in Siem Reap. This is a good location for a stall as the hospital does not provide meals for patients or their families so visitors will buy food for them. She also serves staff that work at the hospital.

Channa applied for a new loan as she found she was running out of food before the end of the day and had to turn potential customers away. With the loan she will buy new equipment for her stall (additional cooking and serving pans) and also more ingredients. As an additional advantage is that with the access to additional funds from the loan she is able to buy in bulk and benefit from the cheaper wholesale prices.

Channa and her husband have three children, aged five, six and eleven. She says she some of the extra income she earns through the changes made with the loan will be put towards her children’s education. Although state schools in Cambodia are free, the costs associated with attending school- books, uniform, transport, equipment- often mean families cannot afford to send all or any of their children. With her additional income Channa will be able to send all of her children to school. The rest of the additional income will be split between paying for some improvements to her small home and setting some aside for emergencies.

Channa says she is pleased JWOC is able to offer loans to small businesses as JWOC’s interest rates are lower than other places and they allow weekly repayments which helps with budgeting. She says thank you to JWOC, which we in turn pass on to our supporters!

Thorng Touch

Touch is 48 years old and runs a second-hand clothes business. She buys second-hand clothes wholesale in the capital, Phnom Penh, and then sells them in two ways. One way is to sell bundles to other clothes sellers; this is easier but makes her less money. The other way is to sell individual items to customers, making a greater profit on each item. She sells in two places, sometimes in the market, other times outside her home in Krous village.

The loan will mean she has been able to buy the second-hand clothes in bigger quantities, meaning she was able to get a better rate and also reduce the number of times she needs to travel to Phnom Penh, reducing her business costs and time away from her family.

Touch and her husband have four children, the youngest being 15 years old. She would like to use the extra income generated to help support one of her older children in attending university. Although cheap compared to Western fees, the cost of university in Cambodia, $500 per year, is prohibitive to most.

Touch says she liked the process of getting a loan from JWOC as they supported her through the application processes, including helping her make a budget plan. Like Channa, she also appreciates the weekly repayments.

She says awkoon ch’ran (thank you very much) to all those that helped her receive the loan!

Watch our new Clean Water video

Our new video explains the background and impact of JWOC's Clean Water Project and how you can help.

Friday, March 04, 2011


One evening last week Narla and I headed into the squatters village on his motorbike to meet with a man that sells herbal medicine. I had an editor interested in such things and wanted to check it out before sending a guest out to see it. The squatters village sits behind Journeys Within and JWOC and really started growing when we first moved to Siem Reap seven years ago. Those living in the squatters village all have stories of why they’re there, each one seemingly sadder than the next…a sick husband in hospital and everything sold to pay for his care, only for him to die and leave the family destitute; a youngest brother who can’t farm along with his older brothers because there just isn’t enough land to go around; drugs, alcohol, depression. JWOC has a presence here, many of the squatters are our microfinance project loan recipients and clean water project wells dot the community offering at least clean water in otherwise squalid conditions.

Villagers making good use of their JWOC Clean Water Project Well

As we drove through I was again shocked by the trash, the amount of children and the general chaos that comes from too many people living in too small a space. I can’t imagine a childhood spent here. Narla and I left the village agreeing that for the over 3000 people now living here, life was bleak.
The next day happened to be my first Music and Movement class in the new JWOC library. I have had my kids in music classes since they were little…kinder music, mommy and me music time, nursery music and so on. Each time we were back in the States we enrolled in a different class and I loved to see my little ones clapping to the beat, dancing with scarves or pretending to be a kitty cat. I had always wanted to run a music and dance class at JWOC, but we hadn’t had the space. Now we do!

For the first class we didn’t do sign ups, we decided to run it as a drop in class and we advertised in our other classes. Part of the reason we did not have sign ups was we knew no kid would know what such a class was and might be scared off. Class was on Tuesday, from 3 to 4…I was nervous! At 2:45 there were only a few kids reading in the library, at 2:55 there were a few more, but by 3pm when we started our stretches we had about 20 kids and by the end of class, we had 45! That’s right, 45 kids from the age of 3 to 13, dancing, singing and playing silly games.

Andrea teaching Music and Movement in the new JWOC Library

It was a joyous hour, we played little games for the kids, played freeze tag with everyone and we sang songs and pretended to be different animals. We talked about ballet and even practiced a few sashays. The older kids helped the little ones and the little ones’ excitement infected the cooler older kids, even the teenage boys were up on their tippy toes practicing their ballet.

Students perfecting their curtsy

Throughout the class I recognized kids from the squatters village. Some had ripped clothes, others had filthy clothes, a few of the little ones had no pants, but for one hour none of it mattered, we just played.

It struck me how important this new library was. An escape from a home life that was less than they deserved, a chance to be kids and just have fun, a chance to relax and learn in a safe and clean place with a strong fan and clean floors.

Students enjoying their new library space

After class the kids all thanked me and then many of them went and got books and a teddy bear and found a corner in the library to read in. I am so proud that we have this space for them and that we are giving kids the opportunity to be kids…it makes me so happy I want to dance…which is lucky since the kids all requested hip hop as the theme for next weeks class!!!

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