In a sweltering afternoon of March in a room cooled by an electric fan swinging on the wall sits a 36-year-old woman, her hands randomly picking up  one by one the recycled bags piled at her side to check their qualities. Friendly with a coy smile, Pha Tha has been working with Peace Handicrafts, which provides jobs for disadvantaged persons, in Phnom Penh. Being employed since 2002, she is one of the longest working artisans for local suppliers.

checking the quality of recycled bags
Left: Pha Tha is checking the quality of recycled bags, as her daily work at Peace Handicrafts in Phnom Penh.

Pha recounted that her father died when she was just three years old. She is the youngest among four siblings and her mother struggled to bring them up from hand to mouth.

At 4, Pha was ill, but her mother could not afford to buy medicines. As a consequence, the left side of her body became immobile and she could only walk around the house with a walking stick or by crawling.

Pha Ta - quality controller
Pha Tha works as a quality controller at Peace Handicrafts.

In her debt-ridden family, everyone had to work to survive. Her disability proved to be a significant burden for them that made her siblings abuse her physically and verbally.

She applied for work training with Peace Handicrafts, following a friend’s advice.  Despite her limitations due to her physical condition and lack of experience, she was accepted to work with the quality control team.

The management at the time was very skeptical about her ability to work, and in fact, did not believe that she could work at all. But Pha has proven her ability and commitment to work as a worthy team member. The company offered her a good job after the training.

To date, she helps provide her family as much financial support as she can. However, she still continues to receive verbal abuses from her siblings, as they are always expecting for more.

Pha spared around 30 to 40 percent of her total monthly income of $100 to send to her mother, who is in her late 60s, in Kampong Chhnang.

After living in the capital and working for quite a long time, Pha has found her love and got a baby girl out of wedlock. She chose to become a single mother, raising her 3-year-old daughter.

“I am working hard to earn a living and send my daughter to school when she reaches school age. Only education will bring us out of poverty and sorrow. My daughter will have better future than me,” Pha said.

Pha wishes to have her own grocery shop back in her hometown when she gets old and can’t work any longer. But, she is still willing to work more on a part-time job, if being offered. “A hundred dollar a month is not enough to live in the city,” she added.

About the author – Sophal Bun

“My daughter will have better future than me” 1

Sophal Bun is an Export Consultant for Export Assistance Program Cambodia. He received a full scholarship from the Hinrich Foundation and graduated with Master of Arts in International Journalism Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University in 2014. He also earned another master’s degree in Development Studies from the Royal University of Phnom Penh in 2012.