Piece by Piece: The Garment Worker’s Loan
By Stephanie Sibal, KF14, Cambodia
Gritty streets, massive white buildings, heavily-guarded gates. These are a part the outside view, the experience of someone blindly walking by a garment factory in Cambodia. About 20 kilometers out of Phnom Penh are Ta Khmao and Kandal Sleung, regions well-known for the numerous garment and apparel production factories there.
Of course, there is more to garment production than the fashionable pieces that exit the factory for commercial sale; there is the story of the garment factory worker who works tirelessly to produce them.
Garment production is a profitable industry for Cambodia, third only to tourism and agriculture. As such, it is a stable source of income that makes much sense to young, female Cambodians, who make up 90 percent of the workforce in this industry. (The preceding information is from Mai Lynn Miller Nguyen of AsiaLife Cambodia’s insightful and compelling feature on the lives of factory girls.)
I had the chance to interview Sok*, a 22-year-old borrower and garment worker in this district, to get a proper sense of what her life at the garment factory was like—and why she needed a Kiva loan. She met with me on a Friday afternoon, a time she used graciously to stay at home and meet with me rather than go into work. Traveling to her took longer than usual—a trip to her home involved a drive in a car, followed by a ride on a moto, and ended with a quarter-mile walk on a dirt road.
Sok works six days a week, with Sundays serving as her sole day off. Her days are nine to ten hours long. Her income is dependent upon the number of pieces she is able to produce, but she earns an average of $3.50 USD per day. This puts Sok at close to AsiaLife Cambodia’s estimate of an $85 USD per month salary for the country’s garment workers.
Sok’s husband, also a garment factory worker, earns similar wages. Along with two children, both toddlers, the family spends $35 per month on food and $5 on electricity. With no bicycles or motos, they spend $30 each month on public transportation. The rest of the money goes to various expenses, but a bulk of it is sent to family members strapped for cash even farther away.
Pairing the tough work schedule she and her husband are faced with (a friend watches her children while the two are away) with her various expenses, the money that Sok actually gets to keep is very little.
Her Kiva Loan
Despite the long hours, at the moment, Sok is relatively satisfied with her life. She took a Kiva loan to purchase a cow for breeding, hoping that it will help her to make ends meet. She’s more inclined to side businesses rather than leaving garment factory work altogether.
If she weren’t a garment worker, she would be “outside, growing vegetables,” a back-breaking, heatstroke-inducing task, not to mention a slightly less reliable source of income. “It depends on what and how much people will buy from you at the market,” she explained.
“I want my sons to go to university someday, not like me,” she told me. She’s hopeful that this additional source of income will improve her family’s well-being.
*Borrower’s name has been changed.
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