Strey Khmer, meaning “Cambodian Women,” was founded by seven women who were determined to help their indigent rural sisters become healthy enough to work and skilled enough to be financially self-sufficient. In other words, to make women less vulnerable to sex traffickers’ offers of “a good job.”
Dr. Pen Ricksy, President, and her staff take me with them to Toul Krang Village. Jammed into Strey Khmer’s van we streak past haymows that hide carts pulled by boney white oxen. Ricksy explains that a quarter of Cambodia’s families are headed by single women trying to support children alone.
Some village women have used Strey Khmer’s micro-loans to buy pigs (one brags to Ricksy that the sow is pregnant again) and others are irrigating their rice fields with
a water pump they bought with a $250 loan from Strey Khmer. As I watch them sloshing through the flooded fields, the existence of water in this arid environment seems miraculous. Income from the rice (plus the cabbage, garlic, and water lilies that the water also irrigates) will not only repay the women’s loan, but cover land rental and seeds.
Ricksy presents new medical kits to the women who have completed Strey Khmer’s midwife training. Thirty percent of all births in Cambodia occur at home, and maternal mortality in this country is ten times higher than Thailand, four times higher than Vietnam. Ricksy tells me proudly that Strey Khmer midwives here have never lost a mother or a newborn. With obvious pride, the women accept the shiny tin boxes that hold surgical scissors and thread to tie umbilical cords.