Phnom Penh 

(Had a little trouble getting my account activated.  This post is from Oct. 18th.)  We now have two days of field visits under our belts.  The long-awaited quest to gather information has yielded notepad pages full of facts.  There is no question we’re dealing with people holding onto the lower rungs of the economic ladder.  Many loan recipients have no electricity.  If they do, they often can’t afford to use it.  Many get their water either from the Mekong in the dry season or collect rain in the monsoon.  They cook over charcoal or wood fires.  Their houses, elevated on wood or concrete piers to weather floods, are often made from local materials like wood, bamboo and woven leaves and reeds.  The more financially secure people have brick, cement, tile and corrugated steel.  A vehicle, universally a 100 – 125 cc motorcycle, is a luxury. 

To get by, people do what they know how to do.  They apply the same skills they use to live.  They farm and sell the excess.  They weave cloth of silk, cotton and nylon and sell that – usually to middlemen for a small profit.

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Some people build, repair or prepare the looms for weaving.  They build or sell the materials to build, houses.  A few people buy a small stock of groceries and household goods for resale in their village.  They fix flat tires.  They fish in the lakes or rivers.  The economies in the villages we visit are very simple.  There are no fancy or luxury services.  Some people – the lucky ones – work in local factories that produce bricks or garments but they seem to be a small minority. 

The vast majority of people are entrepreneurs.  Very few people work for anyone but themselves – big contrast to my home, the US.  Everyone seems to be trying to make a buck, though.  (US dollars are the default currency in Cambodia.) 

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Beyond the obvious imperative to survive, they work to save and better their situations.  They try to make their businesses more profitable and their lives more secure.  Almost without exception, the loan recipients’ one clearly articulated, long-term objective seems to be to get the best possible education for their children.  In this environment, any education is a step ahead. 

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