NEANG TEUT, Cambodia (April 2012) _ Ek Yit and his wife used to feed their four children whatever scraps they could toss together, but with a few lessons on fish farming, the family now has a steady income as well as a healthy diet.
“Before I started raising fish, it was hard for my family to find food. We used to mix some poor quality rice with whatever vegetables we could find around the house – it was the same as the food fed to pigs,” 40-year-old Ek Yit said from Neang Teut commune in the eastern Cambodian province of Kampong Cham. “Now we eat fish, and can exchange the surplus for rice so my family has enough food. This means that we can afford for our children to go to school.”
In families like Ek Yit’s, a child’s life in poverty begins at birth. Parents with little or no education or skills are unable to earn livable wages, which often leaves children hungry or malnourished, and unable to enroll in school because tuition is seen as an unnecessary luxury. Children often have to work to earn extra income for the family.
These people become prey to human traffickers and abusive employers. Adults, youth and children migrate or are trafficked to work in inhumane conditions at home or abroad, while girls and young women end up in brothels.
As a child-centred organisation, Plan International focuses on improving the lives of deprived children, and with a holistic outlook, we target the roots of the problem, which means enabling adults and communities to have stable livelihoods to support strong, healthy children and families.
In 2011, Plan trained 165,148 people in agricultural, vocational and business skills. Here are the stories of people Plan worked with in Cambodia and Timor-Leste.
Job security = food security
In Cambodia, Plan works with more than 8,500 of the poorest families – totaling approximately 44,500 people – in Siem Reap and Kampong Cham provinces. In communities like Neang Teut, Plan has helped launch economic security activities like the fish-raising project, providing families with skills, start-up materials and baby fish to establish small enterprises that combat poverty as well as associated food insecurity.
“Plan taught me how to prepare the pond and the water for the fish, and then how to change their diet according to the various stages of their development,” Ek Yit said. “First we must feed them with a kind of worm, then they progress to insects. The fish reach their full size in three months, and then I can either exchange them for rice in the village, or sell them.”
Ek Yit can now feed his four children – who range in age from two to 15 – while also pulling in 8,000 riel (nearly US$2) by selling a kilogram of fish in the market. He has even been able to send his eldest daughter to be educated in Phnom Penh, where she hopes eventually to gain the qualifications to become a teacher.
Plan has expanded the project to teach villagers mushroom farming.
“Now I can grow mushrooms, too, so I don’t have to go into the forest to search for vegetables,” Ek Yit said. “Producing food like this has improved almost every aspect of our lives. We have enough to eat, the children can go to school, and they are happy.”
Sustaining livelihoods in rural areas
A native of a small village in Timor-Leste’s Aileu district, Agusto left his wife and four children home and moved about two hours away to the capital, Dili, to work for two years before returning home to work the family land.
Forty-year-old Augusto is one of the men who return home, but many do not, creating a labour shortage in the districts and a surplus in the capital, where unemployment stands at more than 40 percent.
To strengthen livelihoods in rural areas, Plan has been working to build sustainable income-generating opportunities and to provide skills training.
Plan helped Agusto and his fellow villagers set up a livelihoods programme, training the initial group of seven women and seven men to start up a chicken farming business. Some members of the group already had experience raising chickens, but additional training from Plan and the Ministry of Agriculture helped them to improve on their traditional chicken farming methods.
The group also visited other Plan-supported groups in Lautem, about a seven-hour drive east of Aileu, to learn from their successes and challenges.
“It’s important that the groups get to see successful small businesses up and running. It inspires them and helps them learn what works and what doesn’t,” said Julieta Araujo, youth programme coordinator.
“The seed money the groups are provided with at the beginning is very small and is only for essential materials to help start up their business. It’s the work they put in themselves, how they work as a team, and what they do with their training, that is the real key to successful income generation,” she said.
In Aileu, Agusto’s group has set up a chicken coop and is hoping that with money earned from the poultry, they can expand to raise goats. They also plan to establish savings and loans activities to support their members and others in the community.
“To ensure sustainability of the group, we will continue to need support in the short term to build capacity,” Agusto said.