Birthplace: Kandal Province, Cambodia
How long have you lived there? I was born there and lived there right up until I came here which was 3 years ago.
What kind of house did you live in? One room built on the ground and made of leaves. Everything from the floor to the roof was built with leaves and a little bit of wood. The whole family lived there, parents, grandparent, niece, about 6 people. The kitchen was outside and there were no bathrooms or toilets, you would have to walk into the jungle. To shower we had a big bucket filled with rainwater. Girls would shower 3 times a day, boys once every 2-3 days. Even when people are poor they still need to be clean.
Did you go to school? Yes, but I quit when I finished Grade 8 because of financial problems. My mum got really sick so I had to replace her job which was planting rice in the field. I was about 14 years old at the time. I really didn’t want to leave school, I cried when I had to quit. I believe education is very important, but if I didn’t work we wouldn’t have had food to survive.
Did you ever want to do another job or did you want to be a farmer? I was a farmer my whole life until I came here. When I was farming I always had a dream to go back to school and finish uni to learn serious skills. I always wanted to be a doctor but it’s sad because I never got to finish school due to our financial problems. Money is a big problem in Cambodia.
Would you ever go back to school? No probably not. My parents always said it was too late for me to go to school. Cambodian people believe that when you get to around 30 your brain is too old to learn.
Are you happy working here? I am very happy. I bent my back too much from being a farmer and have a sore back and joints now. So when I was told about this job through my Aunty I was very excited to learn a new skill. I like sewing and I like making a whole dress from start to finish. I like the people who work here and when my mum is ill I am given time off so I can be with her until she gets better. My mum is very old, 58. That’s old for Cambodian standards.
Are you happy with the money? Yes, I’m happy with the amount I get paid. The amount of money definitely matches the amount I work. Everything is covered, if I’m sick I get looked after with the money.
What do you do with the money you earn? I give some to my parents but most of the time I save. I would like to run my own tailor business one day if I get enough money and experience. A top tailor with their own business can make a couple hundred dollars a day.
Do you think by working here you will become a tailor faster than working anywhere else? Yes, because I don’t earn any money back in the province. I would need at least $3000 dollars to start my own business.
Birthplace: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Where did you live when you were growing up? Lots of places. I was born in Phnom Penh, then moved close to the beach in Sihanoukville Province, then moved to my parents homeland in Prey Veng Province, then back to the city.
Why did you move from place to place? It was not safe to live in Sihanoukville Province because there was a group of Cambodian doctors who would come around to the villages and pretend to give you medical help but instead would take blood from you with syringes and would try to steal children from the villages. It was quite dangerous there, all jungle and not many houses. My dad was very worried and so we moved.
Why were these Cambodian doctors stealing children?I don’t know but once some men tried to catch my sister and me when we were walking through the jungle. Thank God nothing happened to us. If they caught us they were probably going to take all the blood from our bodies and leave us to die. I don’t know why they wanted the blood, but back then a lot of kids died. The Government did something about it and now it’s getting better.
What did you do for work when you came to Phnom Penh? Basically planting vegetables for my family to eat. I did not work at that time because I was only 9 years old.
Did your family own their land? No, it was the Government’s land. The Government moved us around from place to place a lot. It wasn’t easy moving it was terrible. The Government told us to move and would give us some money but we didn’t want to go because we liked the place we were at. No one wanted to go to the slum area we were being moved to, so the Government started to burn all the houses down so that we had no choice. They wanted that area so they could develop it for rich Korean and Japanese people and build lots of tall buildings.
When they started to burn the houses down, did they burn all your possessions as well? Yes, they burned everything. Everything. Animals died, people were wounded and crops were destroyed.
Did you go to school? When we moved to Phnom Penh city I started to go to school, before that I couldn’t because we had no money. I was about 10 years old and went for about 3 years.
Why did you stop going to school? My parents could no longer afford it. My dad and brother had started a cycle business, so they had enough money to send us to school, which cost about 5 cents a day. The cycle job was a very bad job, one of the worst, no one ever wished to do it but they had no choice, it was all they could do. It was very tiring and sweaty and they would only make about 50 cents for each person to go on for 1 hour. Eventually my father and brother became too tired and couldn’t make much money, so I stopped going to school. If we had the money I would’ve liked to continue school.
Where did you work before you came here? I started working when I was 15 in a Government factory sewing clothes. I worked there for 2 years and did 9-11 hours a day, 7 days a week. It was tiring but a good experience. We would get a 30 minute break for lunch, and we were not aloud to chat to each other unless it were work related questions. Then I went to another factory that was more difficult but closer. The owner was mean and the job was hard, if you made a mistake they would shout at you but if you think they made a mistake they would never listen. The pay was less, only $50 a month for the same hours. They made us work overtime, sometimes 12 hours a day, and we only ever got paid the $50. I had no choice; it was not easy to find another job. There are worse factories than that one though, where you would have to work 15 hours a day and don’t get paid much at all. Most of the factories in Cambodia pay you $45 to $50 a month for 7 days a week.
How do you find working here compared to the factory? A family business is very different to a factory business. In a factory they push you to work and force you to do overtime whereas here I do not get forced to work, I am given holiday breaks and it is a good standard of working. I am happier here because I don’t get tired and I have more freedom. The owner is very supportive and I can chat or take a break when I like. I get to eat and stay here for free and get more money than i was earning at the factory on top of that. Also in the factory I only got given one specific task whereas here I get to do everything.
What do you want to do in the future? I want to start my own clothing business like a tailor shop. Working here enables me to gain lots of experience making clothes and I believe will help me to run my own business.
Birthplace: Kampong Chhnang Province, Cambodia
How much schooling did you have? I finished Grade 6 when I was about 15.
Why did you leave school? I left to go work in our farm and also because I didn’t like school. At school some of the children would laugh at me because I have a hearing problem in one ear and couldn’t answer the teachers questions properly.
Did that affect your ability to learn? Yes, it affected my ability to learn, to think and to speak. Sometimes people ask me one question and I answer another.
Do you enjoy sewing compared to farming? I like farming.
Do you want to return to farming one day? No. I like farming because you are in the fields, there is more space, and you can do things like go fishing. But as far as living goes, this life is better. I would like to farm but I don’t want to live a village life.
Do you see this as a good job for you then because you are with your family and can learn and do things at your own pace? Yes, if I didn’t work here my only other choice is working on the farm in the village and there is very little income in that so I couldn’t save or support my own family.
Birthplace: Kandal Province, Cambodia
What kind of house did you grow up in? It was a very poor house. The roof was built with palm leaves the walls with wooden logs to stop the sun coming in. There was only one room and one bed. My whole family of seven lived there.
Did you go to school? I went to school until Grade 3 then I quit because I wasn’t interested in studying, I couldn’t handle it, it was too difficult for me. Instead I left to go work in a palm fruit business where I would bring palm fruit around and sell it. I was about 13 when I started work. Then I ran away to escape to get a job working in a garment factory. My parents didn’t know about it until I came back and told them, I was 14 at the time.
Why didn’t your parents know about it? My parents didn’t think it was a good idea for me to work because they thought I was too young but I didn’t agree. My whole life I always wanted to work.
What was the job at the garment factory like? I worked 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. 6am til midnight with two breaks. There were around 3000 people there making clothes and everybody was forced to work really hard, we were always pushed and pushed to get the work done quickly.
You chose to work instead of going to school, would you choose that again now knowing the hours you had to work? I still would, yes, because I needed the money. Everybody needed money.
After the garment factory where did you work? I got married whilst I was working there, then I fell pregnant so I had to stop working. I worked 8 months of my pregnancy then they let me stop. The first 5 months I was pregnant I worked 16 hours everyday, after that they let me go home at 4pm.
How did you come to work here? My aunty was my connection, she asked me to come and work with her. It’s very much a family business. I like working here. I’ve always been treated nicely here.
Is the work better than that of the factory? I like working here better because the system is better here. When we get tired we can have a break then come back to finish the work at our own pace, we are not forced and pushed all the time.
What do you do with the money? I have a lot of debts to pay. I borrowed money to pay for my mother’s funeral that cost $250. And that is cheap for a funeral, some can cost around $3000. The interest is 10% a month, $25. I try to pay $35 month so I’m not just paying the interest off but that’s all I can afford. Interest is always 10% everywhere in Cambodia. It’s very easy to get a loan, but a lot of people lose their house or land because they owe money.
What do you hope for your daughter in the future? I want her to go to school. If we had money, I would send her to school. I hope that by working here I will be able to pay off all my debts one day.