• Watch a video of Mu Sochua's US Human Rights Commission Testimony .
• Support DEVI through their US partner organization The Wave Project.
VIDEO: Mu Sochua—Sending the Right Signal to Cambodia's Women
DEVI’s first collaboration is DEVI Crepes, a micro-franchise project to help recently laid-off garment workers start their own small businesses, rather than resorting to the entertainment industry, which is often code for sex work.
The global financial crisis has hit Cambodia’s garment exports hard. Until recently, according to the International Labor Organization, the largely female industry employed 350,000 people and generated nearly 80% of the country’s export earnings. However, when orders from the West plummeted, exports fell by a third, forcing many factories to shut down or begin lay-offs. By June, according to ILO estimates, 64,000 garment workers had lost their jobs – most of them uneducated women from rural communities.
A July report from the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking indicates that many are turning to karaoke bars, beer gardens, and sex parlors as their best option. This, says Sochua, is an alarming trend.
“Women who are entering the entertainment sector industry in Cambodia are faced with violence and exploitation,” she said. “That choice is not a great choice.”
DEVI Crepes could offer them a better one.
The project intends to give women the tools and training to run their own food cart businesses in Phnom Penh, where organic, hygienically-prepared crepes are healthier than the average street food and would sell well. The $256 invested by DEVI in working capital and equipment – such as pans, utensils, and the cart itself – would then be repaid by each woman over 18 months. According to DEVI projections, a former garment worker could make $200 a month operating her cart – double what she would make on average in the entertainment industry.
“It is very cost-effective,” Sochua said. “It builds up confidence and self-reliance, as well as unity, and will push forward sustainable economic empowerment for women who have very little skills and very little education.”
If all goes according to DEVI’s most recent business plan, the first 10 crepe vendors will hit the streets of Phnom Penh in October. While DEVI must raise $20,000 to get the enterprise started, it intends to be self-sustainable by December 2010.
The crepe mini-franchise is only the first of many projects DEVI envisions. Others include helping organic farmers reach local markets through better promotion, and conducting village hearings for women to share their problems and solutions with each other and experts.
DEVI’s ultimate fundraising goal is $200,000, of which Sochua estimates $20,000 has been raised so far. Many donations have come from house parties, like the one Sochua attended in supporter Morry Hermón’s Berkeley home just before returning to Cambodia.
“My wife [Sandhya] and I were encouraged to know that there are brave women helping other girls and women to find an economic alternative to selling their bodies,” Hermón said. “Since we have a home that is conducive to a small gathering, we decided to throw Sochua and DEVI a little party.”
Sochua joined Hermón and Sandhya in the kitchen, where they filled the dinner table with savory Cambodian and Indian dishes. By inviting friends into their home to share a casual meal and learn more about DEVI, the Hermóns raised $2,500 – enough to fund the first 10 small-business owners of DEVI Crepes.
While Sochua may not be able to join you in your own kitchen, you can throw your own creative party for DEVI, or make a tax-deductible donation through their US partner organization, The WAVE Project.
“I am urging you,” Sochua said, “to please help organize your house party, or your tea party—in the sense that it is helping with women, not just having tea! We're talking about things that are very feasible, ways that every one of you can take action.”