Katie Swift, marketing project administrator for World Vision Micro, tells the story of Sam Mai, an entrepreneur from Cambodia who changed her life and the lives of her children through two World Vision microloans.
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Last week, the World Vision Micro team got together for lunch, and we started reflecting on what motivates us to do the work we do. We all had our own stories: from the excitement of watching Micro grow from an idea to stories of donors whose experience with Micro has changed what they thought about World Vision, to stories of children and families in Rwanda and Cambodia. For me, I couldn’t stop thinking about Sam Mai.
Last year, I went to Cambodia to lead a group of college students as they learned about World Vision’s microfinance work. We met dozens of families and children, were inspired by the passionate and dedicated staff, and saw evidence of real and sustainable change. The story that changed my perspective, and the story that keeps me sitting in this office all day, is that of Sam Mai.
When we met Sam Mai, we were in the middle of a torrential downpour. We stood under the tin roof of a pavilion in the middle of some government housing in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where Sam Mai lived. As the rain hammered down, I could barely hear her story, but I saw her glow. And I saw her bike. I saw the pride she exuded as she told her story, the joyful way she interacted with her children, and the expression of accomplishment on her face as she showed us around her home.
I would have never guessed it from the way she acted, but Sam Mai had a tough past. Sam Mai had five children when her husband died years earlier. When he died, she was left with no income and little hope — the family ended up living in a garbage dump, scavenging and selling recyclables just to survive. Her oldest son was hanging out with the wrong crowd and started sniffing glue to numb the reality of life in the dump. Her future and that of her children looked bleak.
Then, with a microloan from World Vision, everything changed.
With an initial loan of $50 and a second loan of $60, Sam Mai bought a bike, a basket, and some bread. She now bikes all over the surrounding area to sell bread to make a profit. Now, not only have they moved out of the dump and into a real home, but her children are able to go to school, alleviated from the burden of scavenging through trash all day.
What’s most remarkable to me is how little it took for Sam Mai’s life and the lives of her children to be completely transformed. A total of $110 (US) — an amount many of us make in a day or two — changed lives. Sam Mai has earned respect among her peers, she has regained her dignity, and she is proud that she can provide for her family. As for her five children — can you imagine where they might have ended up if they had to spend their whole childhood in a garbage dump, without an education? I’m sure those were the thoughts that kept Sam Mai up at night.
So why World Vision? We all know how quickly times can get tough — jobs are lost, loved ones die. But sometimes something as simple as a small loan can completely turn things around. That’s why I choose World Vision. World Vision is giving microloans to people just like Sam Mai all over the world who, for whatever reason, are in crummy situations and just need a little boost. These microloans are keeping families together, giving dignity, and giving life. I know it — I’ve met Sam Mai.
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