“Is your husband being nice to you?”
“Yes, better than before. But he is jealous of me nowadays.”
“Why is he jealous? Because you are earning more money than him?”
“Because I went away for two days with the staff. The villagers mocked him as he had to look after the children instead of his wife.”
“Don’t ever let what he says make you feel bad. Just remember how far you have come in your life, and be proud of yourself!”
“Don’t worry, lately I have been ignoring that and not letting it affect me.”
This was a phone conversation that went on the other day between myself and Chomrong, a sewing graduate from Human and Hope Association. The behaviour of Chomrong’s husband didn’t surprise me. Many men in Cambodia get notoriously jealous of a woman’s success. What surprised me was that his behaviour didn’t negatively affect Chomrong as it used to. I remember Chomrong being interviewed by a staff member in 2014, and her crying whilst my colleague sat awkwardly beside her. She was upset at how her life turned out; she was living in poverty with three young children to support and a verbally abusive husband. Chomrong and her family lived from day to day, not knowing whether they would have enough food to survive.
Then something incredible happened. Chomrong was presented with the opportunity to study sewing at Human and Hope Association. She grasped the opportunity and came top of her class. She was hired as a seamstress and made handicrafts at her home using a machine she purchased through our microfinance program. She was able to watch over her children whilst earning a stable income. She eventually paid off her first machine, then borrowed a second machine through us. We placed her daughter in our English classes and her son in preschool. Her son graduated, transitioned to public school and began attending Khmer and English classes.
Her life was slowly improving, and so was her family’s, but more was to come. Before I departed Human and Hope Association so it could be entirely Khmer operated, a sewing teacher position became available at the organisation. I knew that Chomrong was the perfect person for the role. We approached her to undertake an interview, and she said no. There were too many things holding her back. After a couple of weeks, however, she came to us and said she wanted to apply.
Her husband had helped her find solutions to her issues, and she was ready to take this next step in her life. Chomrong is now a sewing teacher in the afternoons, empowering women like herself with sewing, life and business skills. She continues to make handicrafts for us in the mornings at her home, enabling her to spend time with her children.Whenever I feel overwhelmed with my problems, I think about Chomrong. She has taught me about resilience and persistence, and I have no doubt she will serve as a positive role model in her community for years to come.
Chomrong and her husband have finished building a brick house on their land, which replaced the unsteady structure they have lived in for many years. Although they have their issues, it warms my heart to see Chomrong not letting it affect her confidence like it did before. Chomrong is now a strong role model for her children and is creating a life for them that she never thought possible.