Cambodia, Guest Post, Human and Hope Association, Seamstress Story

How This Sewing Program in Cambodia is Empowering Women

How This Sewing Program in Cambodia is Empowering Women

When Sangorb was young she dreamed of a future where she had a big house and lots of family living with her. Her dream was pushed into the back of her mind, when at age eight, she was forced to stop studying at public school so she could take care of her family’s cows. Sangorb went on to work one job after another, but as she was illiterate, none of them paid well or brought her closer to achieving her dream. She eventually got married and lived in a bamboo shack with her husband. They struggled to survive from day to day, and with rain dripping through their palm leaf roof, she developed a skin condition.

One day, when conducting community outreach, Seyla, the Vocational Training Manager at Human and Hope Association, came across Sangorb. He helped Sangorb to fix her skin condition, and invited her to study in the sewing program. Although it was difficult for her at first, Sangorb developed a love for sewing. She came top of her class, and was hired by Human and Hope Association to make handicrafts at her home. She also developed her own sewing business, making and fixing clothes for her neighbours. 

Sangorb graduated in October 2016, and has been able to begin construction on a stable house. She works from home, and comes to Human and Hope Association daily, as her five-year-old daughter now studies in the preschool program. Her dream is becoming a reality, and she is so thankful to our wonderful donors who enabled this. 

The sewing program at Human and Hope Association empowers mostly women aged 16 years and over with the skills to set up their own businesses and work for sewing shops in Siem Reap town.

They begin recruiting our students six to eight weeks before a new term will begin. We do so by posting announcements in the community, asking our current students to spread the word and driving out into the villages to find suitable applicants. We then conduct assessments and determine the suitability of people to our program. Once students have been chosen, they sign a contract with us.

Our students study for three hours a day, five days a week. Over the course of ten months they learn everything from how to use a sewing machine to designing and sewing traditional ceremony tops.

Every Friday we provide life skills training to our students, with topics attempting to address issues we have identified in our community such as anger management, child protection, goal setting, financial management, domestic violence and family planning.

These lessons equip students with new knowledge and also have been proven to increase their confidence in dealing with said issues. There are additional one-off workshops, such as business skills and job interview skills.

Our students receive a stipend for studying at Human and Hope Association so we can ensure their families are well-fed while they take the time out to study. Three days a week they receive 1kg of rice daily. Two days a week they receive herbs and vegetables. These herbs and vegetables are grown in our student farm, with our sewing students tending to the garden daily, learning about chemical-free farming and having direct input about how to manage the farm.

After studying in the program for three months our students have the opportunity to take out a microfinance loan with us. 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 we can ensure they are confident in their ability and are not pressured to pay back their loans straight away.

Upon graduating, armed with a diverse set of skills, our students seek employment in sewing shops, run sewing businesses from their homes or are hired by us to make products. We continue to provide workshops and refresher lessons for them every month for five months after they graduate.

Our handicrafts, such as toys, homewares and accessories are made at the homes of our seamstresses from traditional Khmer fabric and are sold around Siem Reap and in Australia. The profits support our education programs.

Women in Cambodia face many issues, particularly with gender equality and roles. This program is incredibly empowering for the students. They see their own personal ability to create change in their lives, and learn they can be independent. This not only gives them confidence professionally, but also in their personal lives.

Written by Sally Hetherington, Human and Hope Association’s former Operations Manager.