Today we are sharing with you the story of Heang, a Cambodian woman who has greatly benefitted from the sewing program we financially support in Siem Reap.
Heang is one of eight children who didn’t quite make it to the end of high school; she had to drop out in grade eleven as her parents could no longer support her with the cost of study supplies and extra classes.
Heang began working as a housekeeper to make ends meet, until she was approached by a non-government organisation to study sewing. Heang had been interested in sewing since she was young, so she jumped at this opportunity. Unfortunately, the program she studied was short and offered no follow-up or ongoing support. Heang could only sew the basics, so she was unable to fulfil her dream of setting up her own business at her home in rural Siem Reap.
With her limited sewing skills, Heang began making simple bags at a shop for a small wage but was dissatisfied as she was determined to set up her own business. Heang’s life then faced another hurdle; her parents arranged for her to marry a man in her village that she didn’t know or have feelings for. Heang already had feelings for another man in her village, so she did something that isn’t common in Cambodian culture; she refused the arranged marriage. Her parents weren’t accepting of Heang’s decision, so Heang had to make a difficult choice, parting ways with her family so she could marry the man she loved. Heang demonstrated bravery that is rarely seen in Cambodian society, as many women are culturally obliged to do as their family says.
After living with her new husband for a year, Heang had a baby and gave up her job, relying solely on her husband’s housekeeping job to see them through. They were pushed further into poverty, which was only amplified when Heang fell pregnant again. Facing an uncertain future, Heang and her husband were caring for two children with one salary.
Fortunately, one day when conducting outreach, the staff at Human and Hope Association came across Heang at her small house and asked if she would like to study sewing. Heang was elated; this was the opportunity she needed to progress past basic sewing skills and have the ability and confidence to set up her own business. In the back of her mind though, Heang had hesitations. She was concerned that Human and Hope Association wouldn’t live up to their promise of providing a full set of sewing skills, as she had been left disappointed by the other NGO she studied with. Human and Hope Association’s sewing graduate, Sampheas, travelled to Heang’s house to share her experience studying in the year-long program and the fact that she had set up a successful sewing business herself. Heang’s hesitations were wiped away, and she signed up immediately to study in the program.
Each day, Heang would travel on a one-hour return journey on a bumpy dirt road to study at Human and Hope Association. Her determination to set up her own business kept her going through the fatigue, and after just three months of studying in the program, she was hired as a seamstress to make the handicrafts that we sell in Australia.
“When I attended sewing class at HHA, I have improved my sewing skill a lot. I meet new good people. Also, I gained a lot of knowledge, especially about parenting and money management.”
After graduating from the program, Heang had the confidence and skills to finally fulfil her dream of setting up a sewing shop at her home. A few months afterwards, with money saved from her business and the support of her husband, Heang added a laundry washing business to her sewing shop.
Through attending this sewing program that we support in Cambodia, Heang is living her dream. She is proud of her determination to keep going and is especially proud that she was able to prove to her family that choosing to be with the man she loved paid off, as he has supported her to achieve her goals. Heang is living a happy life, free of poverty, with her family.
We too, are incredible proud of Heang, and would love your support so we can help more women study sewing and break the cycle of poverty. By signing up as a monthly champion, you can help us to empower communities to reduce inequalities.