When Cambodian Doeun Dy and his wife, Hong Srey Touch, married in 2006, Hong’s parents gave the couple a rice paddy and a small plot of land to get them started in their life together.
Doeun and Hong, though, had dropped out of school in grades 7 and 6, respectively, and neither had the skills nor education to grow rice for their own consumption, let alone to make a living selling it.
To make ends meet, Doeun had to migrate to find work — first to Thailand to work in construction. Then, when his boss did not pay him for four months of labor, he moved to work on a corn farm near the Cambodian-Thai border.
Hong started running a small grocery shop out of her hut but still had a hard time earning enough to support herself.
Then in 2009, Hong was invited to join a “partner household group” through Life with Dignity in Cambodia.
Formerly a program of The Lutheran World Federation, Life with Dignity is an organization that works to alleviate hunger and poverty in Cambodia.
For decades, ELCA World Hunger has supported a number of programs run by The Lutheran World Federation in the country. In 2011, though, the federation’s work in Cambodia localized, meaning the work would be run entirely by the Cambodian people.
Localization was an important achievement. While ELCA World Hunger will still support the project, Life with Dignity is now staffed and administered entirely by local people rather than The Lutheran World Federation.
It’s through Life with Dignity that Hong was able to learn about micro-finance and saving money. For instance, before she entered the program, she says she never thought to accept small change when she was shopping. But once she learned that putting these small amounts aside could lead to big savings, she started putting money away.
Soon she had saved enough to buy six piglets. Once she raised the pigs into maturity, she was able to sell them for a profit.
The program also taught her how to more effectively farm her rice paddy. Now she and Doeun yield enough rice to feed themselves and to sell in the market.
“Before, I always looked down on myself that I could not do anything,” Hong says. “But after Lutheran World Federation/Lutheran World Development trained me, I can do it well now.”