International Women's Day: Having it all in Cambodia

Today is International Women's Day. We honor the remarkable achievements of women like Konitha, a mother and entrepreneur in Cambodia who used World Vision business loans to build a life of dignity and hope for herself and her children.

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When I was 12, my mother bought me Helen Gurley Brown’s book, "Having It All." The book offered advice on how a woman could succeed at everything -- love, work, and family. My mother knew even then that her overachieving daughter would have difficulty choosing between having a family and having a career.

And she was right. I couldn’t. I wanted to have it all.

Today, at 49, being a wife, a mother of two children, and a World Vision journalist who travels for months every year is a juggling act. Sometimes the balls go splat, and I wonder whether "having it all" is even possible.

Meeting Konitha last week in Cambodia, I realize that it is.

Konitha, 32, is the mother of two girls. Her family’s story is told time after time in Cambodia -- the story of the Killing Fields and how a few terrible days in April 1975 turned into years of nightmare for millions of people. How they were ushered at gunpoint out of the capital city, Phnom Penh, to work as peasants in the fields.

If they were educated, they were killed. If they resisted, they were killed.

The family survived the genocide, and Konitha was born in 1980. But their challenges continued. During another period of fighting in 1997, the family home was burned to the ground. Konitha had to go to work in a garment factory, working 11-hour days to help make ends meet.

Then, Konitha found out about World Vision. She’d been invited to a meeting about World Vision's microfinance program, where a representative discussed how it worked -- how a woman could take out a small loan, and, if she had a good idea and had skills, how she could parlay that loan into a small business.

Konitha decided to jump on board. She took out a starter loan of $50 to buy cloth to resell to her colleagues at the factory. This factory worker was quickly becoming an entrepreneur. With that loan paid back, she took out another $100 to expand the business.

But something had changed in Konitha’s life.

She’d had children -- two girls. And what she wanted more than anything was to take care of them and ensure they got a good education. So Konitha dreamed big, taking out a loan for $3,000 to build a house and start a grocery store across the street from her home.

Today, that business is thriving. She sells Chinese noodles and coffee, with business acumen picked up from World Vision -- her business is clean, everything is homemade, and everything is delicious.

Konitha’s grocery store has become the neighborhood 7-11. And she does it all with two little girls in tow -- one who goes to school during the day, and the other who spends a lot of time in her mother’s arms.

Today, this working mother brings in $300 per month -- a full $130 more than she made at the factory. “Now I have enough time for my children,” she says.

I asked Konitha about her future goals.

“To be like you,” she said. “To be a professional. If I had a higher education, I would sit in an office like you.”

How I responded made Konitha’s eyes widen.

“I want to be like you,” I said. “You have it all. You are a successful businesswoman who still gets to spend a lot of time with her children. That’s what I want -- what you have.”

Standing there in front of Konitha’s Chinese noodle shop and grocery store, I thought about how far away I was from my family, and how close Konitha was to hers.

Thanks to a small loan, Konitha does have it all.  And on this International Women’s Day, I celebrate her.

And I think Helen Gurley Brown would, too.


Read related post: A day in the life of a Cambodian loan officer

Which women in your life inspire you most? You can honor them by funding a small business loan for a hardworking woman entrepreneur like Konitha. Your gift will help her establish stability and independence -- and when her loan is repaid, it will be recycled to help even more business owners, whose services and job opportunities can benefit an entire community!

    Comments

    I love this story. I've been to Cambodia twice. Most recently for 5 weeks in December and January with my husband and our three girls. I would love to meet Konitha next time we're there. Is she in Phnom Penh? (I understand if you can't share that info.)

    Hi Marla. You'll have to contact our visit specialists ((888)-511-6425) to work out those kinds of details. It'd be great if you are able to meet up with World Vision staff and see our work in Cambodia. -Jonathan, WV staff

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