Big Change from 'Chicken Feed' in Siem Reap Province
On a tiny Cambodian farm, smaller than a football pitch in size, it's clear that this is a productive place. Well-fed chickens cluck inside of a fenced yard as chicks scamper around their feet. Huge white cows with rows of bells around their neck sleep next to the pig pen and tiny puppies sleep in a pile under the hammocks slung beneath the traditional wooden Cambodian stilt house. If one follows the sound of a motor, they will find Chhean bent over his rice processor, separating the rice from the grain.
Chhean is from Reach Chun Tol Village which is located 43 miles outside of Siem Reap town. In 1985, he lost his leg to a landmine, a brutal legacy of the Khmer Rouge regime that killed over a million people. He and his wife already knew each other before his accident and decided to marry two years later, committing to a life together despite crippling poverty and stigma from neighbors prejudiced against people with disabilities.
After Chhean’s accident, close friends and relatives stayed in touch and helped where they could. However, other members of his community stayed away, failing to invite Chhean and his family to weddings and other community events. With seven children, it was a constant struggle to survive on less than a dollar and twenty-five cents a day.
"Even after he lost his leg, I still loved my husband. He is a good and gentle man, so I stayed. We often didn't have enough to eat though. For three to four years after we married we only ate Manioc with a little rice,” his wife says.
Manioc, a type of root common in the forests near their home, can be poisonous if improperly cooked. However, as one of the few food sources available, Chhean's family had no other choice, but to take the risk.
A Small Start Leads to Big Change
In 2011, Plan’s partner organization, the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC) met with Chhean and his family and offered them assistance.
With Plan's support and additional funding from the European Union, CEDAC provided Chhean with five chickens and training on animal husbandry. This was all that Chhean needed to begin a new chapter in his life.
Not too long after his training had concluded, he expanded from chickens to ducks, and then from ducks to pigs. Recognizing that pigs and ducks thrive on grain, Chhean purchased a rice processor, swapping his labor for the excess grain.
Not content with this efficient operation, he's now adding another strand to his business, making 'sra sor' – the traditional Khmer white rice wine – from the broken rice that is left over from processing. Literally nothing goes to waste; even the remnants from this process are used to feed the pigs and chickens.
The Ripple Effect
Chhean’s success has also brought a huge change for his family. His three school-age children now attend school and he is financially able to assist his older children with their needs.
"Before my children were very shy–and not proud of me. Now they observe me making income and follow my example. They look up to me and are motivated by my example. They are also willing to participate in community activities because now they are proud of me,” he says.
Chhean's position in his community has also changed dramatically. From a life previously marked by stigma over his disability he is now a respected member of his community.
"I am happy that they think I am a villager in this village. When they have celebrations in the community they always invite me. They always smile and sometimes they say good words to me. Now they come to me for loans as well!"
Stories like Chhean's are the reason why Plan focuses on working with marginalized and excluded children and families in communities like Reach Chun Tol.
Sometimes it just takes one person to lift themselves out of poverty and build a better future for their community. Multiply this by the 80,000 families that Plan currently supports in Cambodia and it's easy to see why we believe that 'chicken feed' can produce big changes.