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Angkor Mikroheranhvatho (Kampuchea) Co. Ltd. (AMK) began as a part of Concern Worldwide; their initial work was with savings and credit in Cambodia. From the years of 1997 – 1998, this area of work was separated from their broad-spectrum focus in regards to community development programs.

The vision of this branch of the organization was long-term, a Cambodian society in which citizens would have “equal and sufficient economic and social opportunities to improve their standard of living, and where they could positively contribute to the overall development of the country.”

The section had grown significantly by the year 1999, having accumulated a value of about KHR 1,000 million (US $250,000). With this success in mind, Concern Worldwide began the process of making this division an independent legal entity.

In 2001, the name of the organization was set to Thaneakea Ponleu Thmey (TPT) and became an officially recognized Cambodian Microfinance Institution (MFI). As things progressed from 2002 to 2003, the organization finally gained its current title – AMK. It was now independent from Concern Worldwide.

Over the years, AMK has built itself up to be a highly successful organization with a large amount of growth and stability. AMK even weathered the global financial crisis of 2008. It is currently regarded as one of the leading financial institutions in Cambodia.

The staff of AMK keeps ethics high on the priority list. Their Code of Practice includes the following: inclusion of the poor, transparency and honesty in transactions, ethical and respectful behavior, avoidance of over-indebtedness, freedom of choice, reasonable and collaborative collection practices, accessible complaint and problem resolutions, and privacy of client data.

At this moment, AMK provides credit to over 250,000 Cambodian customers (over 2 percent of the entire population and 9 percent of the households in Cambodia). This large number gives AMK Cambodia the ability to exercise great influence over financial inclusion in the country.

Other information regarding the organization’s successes and current assets can be found at AMK Cambodia’s Highlights.

– Samantha Davis

Sources:  AMK CambodiaBritannica
Photo: Oiko Credit

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A documentary called Sister brings new light to the dangers of childbirth for women in the Third World. Although childbirth deaths are common all over the world, the film focuses on Cambodia, Ethiopia and Haiti. In Cambodia, one in 48 women die from childbirth related complications, one in 44 in Haiti and one in 27 in Ethiopia. This is shocking when compared to the childbirth death rates in the United States, which is one in 4,800.
The film features one young woman, Peum, who is 19 years old and lives in Cambodia, and her struggles with childbirth in developing countries. Peum begins her journey with a midwife, but the situation quickly escalates when she needs a C-section and the midwife is unable to help her. She has difficulty paying for transportation to a nearby hospital. The audience watches as a doctor slices her stomach open and removes the baby. Without this operation, Peum would have died.
Sister also shares the stories of dedicated medical workers who work tirelessly to assist women in childbirth. These doctors and midwives are often working in facilities ill-equipped to handle emergency situations. The film does not attempt to hide any of the unsettling events that happen in delivery rooms and offers sometimes startlingly real scenarios, like Peum’s story.

When asked what she hopes viewers take away from the documentary, director Brenda Davis explained, “I would like the viewers to ask why? It’s not a film to watch to get the answers. It’s not an academic film, but I would like the viewers to ask why do the women in this neighborhood in Cap Haitien not have access to running water, why do the women in Battambang Province have to worry about landmines when making their way to the health centers?  It goes back to ‘think globally and act locally,’ and looking at what foreign policy is in place that affects women in other regions.”

– Mary Penn

Sources: Policy Mic, Thomas Reuters Foundation

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Heifer International will host the 2nd Annual “Beyond Hunger: A Place at the Table” event on September 19 at the Montage Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles. American actress Susan Sarandon will be honored at this year’s event for her commitment to end world hunger. The evening will also include a performance by country trio The Band Perry. Proceeds from the event will go directly to Heifer’s mission to end poverty, hunger, and protect the Earth.

Sarandon advocates for the mission of Heifer International through events, speaking opportunities, and field visits. Sarandon traveled to Cambodia in 2011 with her daughter to experience first-hand Heifer’s fieldwork, such as a Passing on the Gift ceremony where families pass on the first female livestock offspring to a neighbor in need.

“I have followed and supported Heifer International’s work with women and their families for more than 20 years. I had the chance to see Heifer’s work in person in Cambodia, and see the importance of Heifer’s transformational work with women. Women, particularly in poor rural communities, really are the ‘glue’ and the key to end global hunger and poverty,” Sarandon said.

Heifer International works with smallholder farmers in over 40 countries, providing livestock and training to ensure economic security, self-reliance and nutrition. Since 1944, it has helped more than 18.5 million families, a total of 79 million people, transition from poverty to prosperity.

“Imagine a world where women are finally empowered to be the primary actors in ending poverty and hunger,” Pierre Ferrari, president and CEO of Heifer International, said. “In the developing world, where much of Heifer’s work takes place, women are responsible for 80 percent of food production. Yet, they own less than 1 percent of the land and are still struggling to have equitable, family-focused control of family resources. This situation is in many ways intolerable and we know that progress is astounding if changes are realized within communities and women themselves. Heifer is making this a reality everyday. With the right support, encouragement and training, women lift their families and communities out of hunger and poverty and they will feed this hungry world of ours.”

Families who receive support from Heifer then agree to “Pass on the Gift.” The gift of a single goat to another community member in need can turn into four goats, eight goats, or more, extending the impact of the original gift. This allows the once impoverished families to become actively engaged in their community’s sustainable development.

– Ali Warlich

Sources: PR Newswire, Heifer International
Photo: The Guardian

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The restored canal in Cambodia has transformed lives for small rice-farming communities that depend heavily on rice for their livelihoods. Rice farming is the main source of income for 80% of Cambodia’s 14.5 million population, however, for years, farmers in the region have only been able to expect one rice cycle. Thanks to the restored canal, those in the area have enjoyed three harvests in just nine months, increasing total rice yield three times over.

Previously, the canal that zigzags across the rice paddy in the southern region of Cambodia was shallow, meaning that farmers had to depend on rainwater for a successful crop yield. Rainfall can be erratic and unpredictable. Two years before the restoration of the canal started, a bad drought destroyed rice crops, leaving scores of people hungry. The restoration involved dredging and enlarging 47 kilometers of canal in order to feed water to more than 41,100 hectares of rice in 12 provinces. Now at 6.5 kilometers wide, the canal is linked to a lake, and provides farmers with enough water to grow rice in three cycles of three months each. As a result of the project, approximately 11,240 families across the 12 provinces will have better irrigation for farming.

The restoration of the canal was funded by Sweden and Australia, and the work was carried out by an NGO in conjunction with local authorities. It was launched in an effort to help communities in vulnerable areas manage the risks of climate change. With the impacts of climate change expected to adversely affect the production of rice, it has been a goal of the UNDP to put mechanisms in place that will help to guarantee food production and food security in the future.

With rice yields already on the increase, farmers in the region are beginning to feel the financial benefits. Lim Savoeun, a rice-farmer, said the increased profits have made a big difference for her family. “In the past, we struggled to scrape by and sometimes had to loan money from others to fill the gap [in the income],” she said. “But we can avoid that since we are now able to grow rice for often that before. As long as there is water, we will keep working tirelessly on our land. We can’t complain.”

– Chloë Isacke

Sources: UNDP, United Nations
Photo: New York Times

Approximately 3.575 million people die each year from water-related diseases, and about 5,000 children worldwide die everyday. 894 million people do not have access to clean water. The water crisis that plagues many developing nations is something that, while difficult to eradicate completely, can at least be managed with the help of foreign aid. There are many recent innovations to solve these water-related issues that are both cheap and cost-effective.

One of these innovations, the ceramic water filter, has already been implemented in nations such as Cambodia and Nigeria. However, the filter is also being used in poor areas of rural Texas near the Mexican border. B. Stephen Carpenter II, a professor at Pennsylvania State University, has recently become involved in producing ceramic water filters, which are made by a combination of claw and combustible material (e.g. sawdust) and then fired in a kiln. The ceramic filters are estimated to remove 95% of particulate matter (any types of bacteria or harmful substances that may carry diseases) from the water. The video above shows how Carpenter makes the filters.

Carpenter claims that the ceramic water filter is one of the most cost-effective types of water filtration. One filter, which costs about $15 US dollars, is enough for a family of four to have access to clean water for five years. It is no surprise that this effective filter has found success in developing countries as well. Since the introduction of the ceramic water filter in Cambodia in 2002, there has been a 50% drop in diarrheal illnesses. The program is already being expanded to become accessible to even more Cambodians who are in dire need of a simple way to make their water clean. UNICEF and the Water Sanitation Program (WSP) were given the Project Innovation Award Grand Prize in 2008 for their efforts in Cambodia.

– Sagar Desai

Sources: Inhabitat, Penn State News

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A new project, initiated by UNDP with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) has been launched in Cambodia in order to better integrate biodiversity conservation into tourism, forestry, agriculture, fishing, and hunting.

Currently, In the northern plains of Cambodia, biodiversity faces threats from overexploitation, in particular from uncontrolled commercial hunting, logging, and destructive fishing practices. Rural communities depend on eco-system goods and services as means for financial sustenance, and as biodiversity comes under threat from the overexploitation, the survival and well-being of the communities are left at risk.

In partnership with the Royal Government of Cambodia and Wildlife Conservation Society (WSC), the UNDP and the GEF are utilizing the project to promote eco-tourism initiatives that generate income for local communities. One project that is part of the initiative is the Tmatboey project, which focuses on a community-managed approach to eco-tourism. The northern plains of Cambodia plays host to a community of large mammals and wetland birds that are found nowhere else in the world. By using the endangered and extremely rare giant and white-shouldered ibis birds as a tourist attraction, the program has established a local tourism enterprise that is using the revenue as an incentive for the local community to protect the wildlife.

WCS drew up land-use guidelines. Locals agreed not to hunt the birds, and in return they would receive assistance with developing tourism. Yin Sary, a former poacher who now works as a tour guide in the Tmatboey project, said, “Eating a bird, I can only fill my family’s stomach once, but guiding tourists to see the bird I get $5 each time. Our community is earning thousands of dollars showing the same birds over and over again.”

With the Tmatboey project, WCS and local NGO partners established a training program for community members that taught them how to work as a tour guide and maintain accommodations. As tourism bookings increased more than 25% annually over the first four years, there were major reductions in the hunting and trade of wildlife species. The income that the village has received from tourism has benefitted the entire community, through investments in community development projects, agricultural support, road improvements and the construction of new wells.

As a result of its huge success, the Tmatboey Ibis project won the Wild Asia Foundation’s prize as best community-based eco-tourism initiative. Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment has subsequently requested that another six sites be sourced and developed for nature-based tourism.

– Chloe Isacke

Sources: UNDP, WCS
Photo: The Richest

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While owning a home has been a quintessential aspect of the “American dream,” one can now say it is also part of the Cambodian dream.

As Sriv Keng and her husband begin their day, they get up in the early hours of the morning and manage to get ready in the confides of a small shack they share with nine others in the outskirts of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. Sriv sells rice soup meals near the factories and her husband is a clothing vendor. Making only $800 a month between the two of them, enough to live on but not enough to sustain a decent living environment, the dream of owning a home remained simply that, a dream.

Talmage Payne, an American who grew up serving the poor in Nigeria with his parents and again in Cambodia during the deadly Khmer Rouge era, founded First Finance, a bank that gives out 15 year fixed rate mortgages to low-income families in Cambodia seeking to buy a house.

After failed attempts convincing major Cambodian banks to feed money into his project, Payne, along with a few friends, decided to simply start their own bank. With $300,000 of their own money, along with $1 million raised from donors, First Finance bank become truly the first of its kind.

Surprisingly, Payne claims that due to the economics of low-income Cambodian families, they actually make reliable and good customers. Since almost every member in the family from the youngest child to the grandparents work, this makes them “financially resilient.” With a minimal two percent default rate, First Finance has actually managed to make a profit.

While waiting for the approval of their mortgage application, Sriv and her husband were visited by officers from First Finance. It is part of the routine examination of the bank to meet with their potential customers to see what their financial standing is. They ask for detailed information regarding Sriv’s small roadside business to see how much money she spends and makes.

The Keng’s were approved. Their $16,000 loan helped them buy a beautiful two-story house, complete with indoor plumbing for the toilet and kitchen as well as tile floors and open archways. Although they are paying back the loan on an 18 percent interest (about five percent higher than normal banks), they are confident in their ability to pay off the loan, a loan that would never have been possible had it not been for Talmage Payne and his bank. To date, First Finance has given 700 loans to Cambodian families.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: npr

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Board Member Don Girskis Reports from Cambodia:

On today’s bus ride from Kep to Phnom Penh, we were delayed by a street protest adjacent to the Chinese owned CHC Shoes factory in Cambodia.  Very peacefully, the workers gathered under an awning they set up in the middle of a main road, blocking traffic.  The workers set up massive speakers, and would alternate between dancing to music, and cheering the people who would speak on the microphone.

I was with Tom Gordon, a founder of the Pepper Project (www.pepperproject.org) that resells local Cambodian products that are produced at fair market wages or better, and he decided to exit the bus and get close and personal with the protestors.   He returned to the bus shortly, and I too joined him outside the bus to get a better look at what was going on.  Apparently, the group contained workers protesting their working conditions and their $61 per month wage, which requires 12 hour days and 6 days a week to earn.  The protestors were smiling back at me, at no point was I ever concerned, as the minimum police presence did nothing to alleviate the massive traffic jam, nor did they attempt to break up the protest.

Reading this in the US, it’s easy to think about the Chinese exploiting the Cambodians, the US has no involvement, and the worker’s poor situation in resulting civil unrest.  Yet we too have ownership of this problem.  Upon reviewing the CHC Shoes website, it displays the logos of large US brands including Kohl’s, and Australian brands such as Lowes Shoes.  I have no idea which company this factory produces shoes for, but corporate responsibility must dictate an intricate knowledge of their supply chain, ensuring that fair wages are paid, and that workers are not exploited.  In a country such as Cambodia, where a strongman has ruled for the last 25 years, I can only imagine the conditions these folks have endured for them to risk what they risked by staging a public protest.

Alleviation of poverty can start at home with corporate policies that require complete knowledge of the supply chain.  In my business experience, I have negotiated contracts with some of the largest retailers in the US, and they have put strong language in their contracts regarding treatment of employees at factories, to ensure no workers are exploited in the making of products sold in their stores.  If only all retail stores would require the same commitments and inspections, more factories would improve the conditions for their workforces, helping downsize poverty.

– Don Girskis

 

Don Girskis is a member of The Borgen Project’s Board of Directors and the former head of Boost Mobile. Girskis had previously been Senior Vice President of World Wide Sales at ShoreTel, a publically traded global telecommunications company. During his four year tenure at ShoreTel, Girskis also served as interim CEO. Prior to ShoreTel, he spent 5 years at Boost Mobile, a wholly owned subsidiary of Nextel Communications. He joined Boost Mobile as Chief Operating Officer when it was just forming. He was promoted to run the entire operation as Senior Vice President and General Manager of Boost Mobile after one year, and developed the business from an idea to $1.8B in revenue in just 5 years.