It’s been a while since we last checked in and yes we are all still alive and kicking.  Since we last posted so much as happened it’s hard to know where to start.  Maybe a good place to begin would be with how resilient we have found our beneficiaries to be.  Although they are all some of the most underprivileged families in Kampong Cham, they have all been able to take loans given to them from BSDA via DU GlobeMed and turn it into a business that is making profits.  Each and every beneficiary we met with gave us a tiny insight into what their daily life consists of and how the FF program has helped their lives improve.  Whether their daily routine included waking up at 4 AM in order to go to the market in order to be the first to buy fresh bread to sell back in their village or setting up a mushroom farm single-handedly under their house due to her husband’s disability, one thing rings true: these people are putting their children’s future first. Every family enrolled in the program expressed a sincere and heartfelt gratitude for the opportunity granted to them through this program.  This was many times accompanied by something along the lines of “I want my children to be able to get an education so they don’t end up like me” or “before this loan there was nothing, but now our children can attend school”.   That was a message that really warmed our souls to hear how we were helping and making a difference in their lives.

But warm feelings on our part isn’t the goal, the goal is sustainability for these families so it was on to reviewing all the information we had gathered in hopes of creating an informative workshop on how to improve their businesses.  Most of our beneficiaries are selling goods on the street from a mobile cart or stand in the market and marketing tactics was a popular topic of interest across beneficiaries.  Many who sold food expressed concerns about the hygiene of their stands and how they could improve the hygienic conditions in order to attract more customers.  This insight helped us craft a presentation focusing on their concerns while also highlighting one of our own, financial record keeping. Having a record of sales and business expenses seems like it would be business 101 but obtaining consistent data concerning monthly and daily income as well as costs from our beneficiaries was something we struggled with in our interview process.  Our workshop outlined simple marketing techniques in sign making and how to present an effective elevator speech in addition to financial record keeping and hygiene in food preparation.  While illiteracy makes some of these tasks hard to tackle we were able to have a productive workshop with our beneficiaries and have them take away some valuable new skills to help run their businesses.  We quickly realized that some of the financial topics we presented, budgeting especially, were a little lofty for the mean level of education of our beneficiaries.  For anyone who has had to construct and try to stick to a budget knows, it’s difficult and can be confusing sometimes especially when things don’t go as-planned.  Most of the beneficiaries are living day to day or week to week, without the luxury of being able to look a month or farther ahead in their financial planning.  This poses a great challenge for creating a realistic budget that they can stick to when a surprise medical expense can turn their whole financial situation upside down. Instead of getting down about this situation, we realized after some reflection that we cold change our direction in looking at the financial planning and record keeping.  Instead of expecting that people learn everything overnight and begin implementing it in their business, it would be more efficient to phase it in and actually use it as an indicator for their development of their business.  As their businesses become more successful they will be abel to save more and plan more for the future and start to implement these skills more gradually.

Our next step is to gather what information each beneficiary wants to have on their sign so that we can submit them with a basic design to a professional sign making company to give our beneficiaries’ businesses an edge on the competition.  With help from the WHO website we were able to find a poster listing 5 easy ways to ensure safer food preparation.  The poster we found can be seen here in English although we were able to find a version in Khmer to ensure there was nothing lost in translation between us as presenters and our kickbutt translator Sophors.  After the workshop we announced that BSDA would be providing an optional cooking class hosted at their very own Rice Field Kids Village center for anyone interested in expanding their culinary horizons.  We will also go through a demonstration on good techniques to keep their kitchen spaces clean.  Stay tuned over the next few days for more frequent updates on our progress as well as a post detailing our mini vacation to the South coast and the island paradise of Koh Rong.

– Mason

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