Entrepreneurs changing communities

12 Jul 17

In Cambodia, where 74,000 people are living with HIV, the social stigma connected to this disease is still strong. But through innovative partnerships like the ‘Seedling of Hope’ program, women are overcoming feelings of shame to become confident entrepreneurs.

"The Caritas program helped me to realise that having HIV is not the end of my life. It helped me to value myself more and start anew with a better livelihood," said Raksmey, a mother Caritas Australia supports through the program.

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Ramskey and her family have changed their lives by participating in the Seedling of Hope program. Photo: Caritas Australia

Ramskey and her family have changed their lives by participating in the Seedling of Hope program. Photo: Caritas Australia

Raksmey farms crickets, a good source of protein in Cambodia and a delicious fried street food, through support and training provided by the program.

"I am happier, healthier and feel more secure in my life," Raksmey says.

"I have acquired a second life and am now living it fully, thanks to the program. My children are also growing up healthy and will finish school and have a better life than me."

However this renewed self-confidence emerged out of a period of deep darkness for Raksmey, who felt so ashamed of her illness that she left her rural hometown with her teenage daughter, for the capital, Phnom Penh, where she became a factory worker. When her physical health deteriorated, Raksmey fell into a depression and considered suicide.

Moving forward with strength

Sister Len Montiel, the Director of the Seedling of Hope tells how the program can be a lifeline, taking vulnerable women, like Raksmey, from the brink of death into new life.

“She realized that her value and her dignity as a human didn’t end with her HIV, nor is it defined by it.” Sister Len said.

“She realized this of others too, especially women like her who used to be so dependent on the husband or other male family members.”

Raksmey now shares her life story and knowledge of raising crickets with other women in the hope that her story might inspire others to overcome the challenges of poverty and society’s restrictive gender roles.

“Keep trying and reach out. There are people who are willing to help you and you can also help yourself,” Raksmey says.

Caritas Australia’s Seedling of Hope program helped to restore her health and hope for the future but it is her own entrepreneurship that has taken her further than she had dared to dream.

This story featured in Caritas News Winter 2017.