Changing lives through employment opportunities
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OUR VOCATIONAL TRAINING
Economic opportunities in Stung Treng are extremely limited. Education is a low priority, especially for girls, who are often expected to stay home and help with the housework, then start families very young. And to live by old code of the Chbab Srey—the Rules for Women—and depend on men to survive.
That’s why so many Stung Treng women live on the edge of catastrophe: Few have any education or skills to fall back on, and no way to pull themselves out of poverty.
Stung Treng women who apply for our six-month vocational training say they want more choices. More skills and knowledge. More control over their own lives. A strategy for supporting themselves and living independently. They don’t want to leave their families to work in distant garment factories; they opt for a livelihood that keeps them closer to home
Our vocational training program offers them a way to take charge of their own destinies.
The six-month, full-time vocational training begins with basic literacy and math skills—how to measure silk threads, how to add and subtract—then adds the skills of silk production and how to oversee a household budget. Women learn to weave, spin, and dye, silk, and also to tally their earnings, manage their income, and save their money for everything from school fees to building a home.We support our trainees while they learn: They earn $40 per month and enjoy free lunches every day. Some women also receive a bicycle, if they live too far from SWDC to walk to work.
After six months, trainees can apply for work at SWDC. About 80% of women who finish the training work for us as weavers, spinners, dyers, designers, or managers, depending on their aptitude. We also provide on-the-job training in new skills, for women who want to change jobs at the center. And we employ some women seasonally, a chance for them to earn some income between the growing seasons, to help support their families.
Some of the women from our programs have gone on to start their own businesses in the village, and even in other provinces.
We currently employ a team of 15 weavers, whose salaries range from $75 to $200 per month—a good income in Stung Treng, where a primary school teacher earns about $50 a month and a medical doctor $200. Although we advertise by radio, most trainees hear about us by word of mouth, from peers and family members who have worked with us. Often, women see a friend living a much-improved life—getting dressed up to go to work every day, repairing her house, sending her kids to school—and they want the same things.
Women doing well in the community are our best possible advertisements.
SWDC has become a vital part of the life of Sre Po village. Since 2002, more than 700 women and 1,500 children have been members of our little silk-weaving community as workers, trainees, and schoolchildren. And many hundreds more have benefited indirectly, as their families’ and neighbors’ fortunes rise through improved health, education, and livelihood.
During the wars, revolutions, and occupations of the 1970s and 80s, the ancient Khmer art of silk weaving was almost lost forever. Traditional sericulture (silkworm cultivation and silk production) nearly died out in those years, as mulberry trees were cut down and a generation of skilled farmers and weavers was lost. Only a handful of master weavers survived; one of them trained the first women who enrolled in SWDC’s weaving program in 2001.
Those first trainees at SWDC have now become master weavers in their own right. They have traveled around the country and helped train other women, doing their part to help restore a vital part of our cultural heritage.