This year’s “Together We Can Change the World” (TWCCTW) tour included visits to several projects we support in Cambodia. They’ve taught us a lot about Gender and Generosity.
Other NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) have noted that boys and girls differ when it comes to how they use household funds. TWCCTW’s experience supports those findings:
When it comes to family finances, boys and young men handle windfalls much differently than women do. Men are inclined to use their family funds for short-term pleasure, while women are far more responsible and tend to focus on long-term investments.
I talked with a coordinator for an NGO program that’s focused on clearing lingering landmines from the American war (Over here, perspectives change. To Vietnamese, it wasn’t called the “Vietnam War;” it was just another in a series of conflicts fought on SE Asian soils: The “Fourth Chinese Dynasty War.” The “French War,” then the “American War,” etc.) He told me this: “Cambodian men with cash are more likely to gamble or buy beer (“A round of ‘Kingdom Pilsners’ for all my beer-drinking friends in the village!”) Women are more likely to use the funds responsibly as investments in community well-being.”
Unless an NGO is vigilant, as TWCCTW is, donated funds may not always be used as intended if men are the recipients.
This is why TWCCTW focuses on assisting and empowering women and girls.
Give a Cambodian man US$100 and it may end up funding short-term relief. Two-thirds of Cambodian families are subsistence farmers, and the men who work the fields want and deserve a Pilsner beer break from their labors.
One of our TWCCTW projects raises funds for a “piglet program.” Women will use that same US$100 to buy a male and female pig, which they care for, feed, and bathe while the men are out tilling the soil. Then come the piglets. And then more piglets. (On one of our village visits, we watched a TWCCTW-funded sow giving birth.) Women view the piglets as investment returns that they can sell in the local market, thus reaping ongoing benefits from their US$100 investment.
Our TWCCTW projects focus on empowering girls and women, whether helping their communities economically, or funding their educational goals.
One highlight of our stay in Siem Reap, Cambodia was our final night in that country. We treated 36 high school girls to a night out. In conjunction with another charity, Ron Khoo’s “FoodForGoodProject.com," we rented a restaurant and provided a multi-course dinner for the girls, who never have the opportunity to dine out.
They typically eat rice three times a day and some didn’t know quite what to make of the array of fish, chicken curry, stir-fried vegetables, and other dishes.
These are girls from very poor families in remote countryside villages. Because of their hard work and good grades at village schools, they’ve earned “Life and Hope Foundation” scholarships. They leave their homes and parents in distant villages and travel to Siem Reap so they can attend a school exclusively for girls with great promise. They sleep in dorms, study hard to further advance their educational goals, and trek back home to visit their families just twice a year.
The evening’s highlight with the girls, following their dinner, was a performance of a live Cirque de Soleil-type show, to which we bought tickets for each of the 36 students. The restaurant meals amazed them; the circus-like show astounded them. We’d rented a bus to bring them from their dorm to the dinner, then to the show, and back to their dorms. That bus was fueled by peals of laughter and joy as the girls just couldn’t believe their good fortune at being rewarded for having worked hard.
These are bright, highly-promising high school girls who will be the future leaders of Cambodia. It was heart-warming to see them feel so grateful to have a night off and dine in a restaurant they’d never ordinarily visit, and to see a fantasy show beyond their dreams.
We are proud to support these girls.
Our other Cambodian projects involved visiting village clean water wells paid for by TWCCTW donors, and serving breakfast to a couple hundred pre-school and primary school kids, the food also provided by FoodForGoodProject.com.
There’s something deeply satisfying about kneeling in front of well-behaved and grateful children to ladle out porridge, rather than just mailing in a check.
(I think the ladies who normally dish out the porridge were glad to have a break, too.)