Modern day Cambodia is the descendant of the ancient Khmer Empire, a powerful empire that stretched over much of South East Asia between the 8th Century and 15th century. Remnants of this period, such as the hauntingly beautiful Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, draw more than two million tourists to Cambodia annually, and stand proudly amongst some of the most historically significant sites in the world. Lonely Planet describes Angkor Wat as the eighth wonder of the world.
Despite its proud history, Cambodia fell into a dark period as it was drawn into conflict from the Vietnam War and then fell to the Khmer Rouge in 1975. Between this time and 1978, leader Pol Pot attempted to turn Cambodia into a purely Communist country, sending millions out into the countryside and deserting Cambodia’s once energetic cities. Intellectuals and city-dwellers bore the brunt of Pol Pot’s brutal regime initially, but disease, starvation and Khmer Rouge cruelty saw the death toll rise to an estimated two million, over a quarter of the population.
Sites such as Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields stand as stark reminders of Cambodia’s tragic past, but the ongoing effect on Cambodia as a whole cannot be understated. In a population of 15 million, only 3.8% of Cambodians are over the age of 65, making the general population incredibly young. It also means the memories of the Khmer Rouge are alive and strong in Cambodia, even today.
However, Cambodia’s real strength is not necessarily the mighty temples of the Angkor region, but its people and their amazing resilience. And with development indicators such as GNI, life expectancy and infant mortality showing significant improvement, Cambodians are not letting their past hold them back.
Mom never had the opportunity to attend school; she has lived in extreme poverty all her life. A mother of two, she spent her days looking after her children and taking care of pigs, which is very risky given how quickly diseases spread amongst pigs in Cambodia.
Mom began studying in our sewing program in 2015. Because she was illiterate, she also studied in Khmer language class with us daily. Her five-year-old daughter was brought into our preschool program, and she can already read and write in Khmer.
Mom graduated from our sewing program in May 2016. She now has a small business at home using a machine purchased through our microfinance program. Mom relishes in her ability to work from home because she is expecting another baby at the end of the year.
“I like drawing and making patterns. I studied at HHA so I could make money to support my family. I never thought I could have the ability, but now I do!”
It costs $90 a month to provide sewing training to a Cambodian woman. Become a Sewing Champion today!