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Sophea’sfamily members have lunch together.

by Heifer Cambodia

Mrs. Lang Sophea, 35, and her husband Ein Dok, 39, are poor farmers living in a small and tiny house with leaked thatch and plastic roofs in Thmei village, Kampong Sela commune and district, Preah Sihanouk province. Located between highland and plain area in southeastern of the country, the village is inhabited by 340 families in which poor households make their living by poaching wildlife, logging, making charcoal and firewood, and collecting non-timber products to earn income for feeding their family because current rice cultivation is not sufficient for their family’s consumption.

Lang Sophea had dropped out of her study at grade 3 to help generate income to support her family. In 1995, Mr. Ein Dok who is also from poor family married her when she was 19 years old. They establish a new family, and now have four children – three boys and one girl. Her family has one hectare of land for rice cultivation. But rice yield can support the household for food only for five months after harvest. Like other poor families, Sophea and her husband have to enter into the jungle to trap wildlife and cut trees for making firewood for sale to earn money to buy food for their children. However, the money got from this job was not enough for family life. She had to borrow money from middlemen at a high interest rate (30% per month) to meet her family’s needs, especially in rainy season when the family could not enter into the jungle or climb up the hill. Sometimes she had to sell her labor in the rice harvest of other villagers for additional income. Because her family did not have enough money to support the schooling of her four children, her elder son Dok Saruot (now 17) decided to drop out of his study at grade 3 to help his father cut trees at the jungle for income.

In 2010, Rural Children Saving Association (RCSA) supported by Heifer expanded its development activities to the village by encouraging the farmers to form an inclusive self help group. Sophea and her family decided to join the group, which has conducted regular monthly meetings that brought her family closer to the society. She received a series of technical trainings, including animal husbandry and management, vegetable planting, compost development, and Heifer's 12 Cornerstones training — guidelines which Heifer views as essential for effective, sustainable development. These Cornerstones also form the basis of the organization's accountability process.

By applying simple techniques gained from training, Sophea started raising three pigs – two fattened and one sow. With her diligent care, the fattened pigs are very healthy while the sow is pregnant now. She hopes to have more piglets in future. Her family also received 15 chickens, horticultural and vegetable seeds, and other agriculture equipment as a tool to improve their food security.

Since joining the project, Sophea spends most of her time to take care of her poultry and pigs. She did not go regularly to jungle with her husband like before. She gets up at 4:00 a.m., preparing and packing food for her husband and elder son to take with them to the jungle (located about 4 km from the village) where they cut firewood for sale. They return home at about 5 p.m. Her family has two buffaloes for daft power and one oxcart as a transport for loading firewood. They can make firewood for sale only three months per year, especially, in dry season, and could earn 2,100,000 Riels (about US $525). However, this income did not balance the household’s whole expenses.

“We cannot depend on forest products as now forest law and forest conservation has been reinforced,” Sophea says. She added, “Therefore, we plan to enhance our livestock production including pig and poultry productions as it is a stable job for our family to earn income.”

After her husband and son drive the oxcart to the jungle, Sophea cleans her house, animal pens and pigs with help from her daughter Dok Thearom, 14, who attends afternoon class at grade 6. Sophea feeds the chicken and pigs and then does other household chores. She has 10 hens and 12 chickens. She feeds pigs three times a day – morning, afternoon and evening. She expects to sell her two fattened pigs within the next few months. However, she is facing challenges in developing her home garden because there is no water during the dry season. So she has to spend money for buying vegetables for consumption from the market. The household has insufficient nutrition as they have small fish, vegetable and eggs in their typical meals. They rarely have meat and pork as it is expensive for her family to afford.

“We have worked very hard to earn money to invest in our three children’s education,” said her husband Ein Dok. “We want our children better than us. Our efforts inspire them to study harder.”

“I want to be a nurse when finishing my study at schools,” said their daughter, Dok Thearom. “I want to provide good healthcare to my family and other villagers. I promise to learn harder to make my dream come true. I also help my family do household chores after school time.”

Sophea’s other two sons, Dok Theara (14) and Dok Theary (7) are studying at grade 4 and grade 1 at Kampong Sela Primary School, which is located about 500 meters from their house. They attend morning class. After school time, Dok Theara helps graze the buffaloes at the field and sometimes, cuts grass as supplementary feed.

Sophea also attends literacy classes that help her better understand the Cornerstones concept. She practices it in her daily life and builds good relations with her neighbors. She fully participates in group saving by putting 2,000 Riels (about US $0.5) in mandatory savings every two weeks and 3,000-10,000 Riels as voluntary savings. Since she has joined the group, Sophea no longer borrows money from middlemen. She borrows from her group with 5% interest per month when she needs money. Now the savings fund of her group keeps increasing. The group members make group business decisions with the group fund to increase their resource base for family and community development.

When talking about community change, we start thinking about family change as family is a fabric of community. Even poor rural families need not only physical inputs, but also education to transform their lives and develop strong communities in a sustainable way.

Editor's note: This post is part of a new series that follows the progress of specific families, starting at the beginning of their work with Heifer. Initially, this series will focus on our programs in Asia/South Pacific, where our colleagues have chosen one family in each region in the countries where we work and will bring us quarterly updates. 

Lang Sophea and her husband Ein Dok feed pigs. They plan to enhance their pig production.    

Sophea takes care of her hen laying eggs.
Sophea and her buffalo, which is used as draft power, plowing rice land and pulling an oxcart.

Her family rides on oxcart to the field.

Sophea’s house


Heifer International

Heifer International is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization working with communities to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth.