Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Stitch in Time Saves ... Lives of Poor Women

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Stitch in Time Saves ... Lives of Poor Women

Article excerpt

I hadn't wanted to wake Miss Phoeun from her afternoon nap. My motodop (Moto taxi driver) had no such qualms and rattled the gates until she and the others stirred from their slumber.

Miss Phoeun is unmarried, quite pretty, and probably in her early 20s. She also depends upon a set of crutches to get around. I had come to her and her cohorts to have some custom shirts made. Her group was the only one that was worthy, in my opinion, of my shirt- procuring dollars.

Cambodia does not have a huge safety net for the welfare of its citizens, especially its women. Especially its disabled women. Due to circumstances well beyond their control, many can barely feed themselves. More than a few sell the only thing they have: their bodies.

Some are fortunate. Miss Phoeun is very fortunate: She landed a slot at the Ponlok Yuveaktey Community, a program in Battambang funded by a nongovernmental organization (NGO). Not all women in the group are disabled, but not just any women are eligible. Only those who are unmarried, widowed, orphaned, desperately poor, or disabled are selected.

Tailoring is just one of the free programs available from its parent organization, Saboras Vocational Training Center in Battambang.

"In the late 1990s, Saboras was one of the few NGOs working in the returnee villages in Pailin Province, the former Khmer Rouge stronghold," says Lance Rasbridge, coordinator of the Cambodian Outreach Program, an independent nonprofit in Dallas, in an e-mail.

"The 'compassion' [the literal translation] of Saboras transcends political ideology," he continues.

Besides sewing, Saboras also teaches cakemaking, child care, and accounting, and runs a "beauty college." After graduation, those without enough money to start their own business are offered a low- interest loan of seed money.

It takes five months of study before participants graduate from one of the programs, and when I stumbled upon the all woman-run Ponlok Yuveaktey Community, I was dealing with its graduates. …

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