Len knows her way around a kitchen. She moves around effortlessly, finely slicing carrots, frying up chicken, and serving it all up on a plate like a pro.
It’s hard to imagine that only months before, she lived with her mother and her abusive and alcoholic father, struggling to see life beyond poverty.
A quiet but confident girl, Len explained how the work skills project has set her on a better path.
“The training program has changed my life,” she said. “It’s made my life better than before. I have a small income to support my family.”
Len is one of thousands of young women in Cambodia pressured to leave school early and take on domestic work to support their families. Many more are faced with early marriage and unable to take on opportunities like work and independence. Through a Plan International project, young people, particularly women, are able to access skills training and paid internship placements to kick-start their careers. This opportunity can be the difference between a life of poverty, and one of earning and dignity.
Len didn’t have an easy childhood.
She had a stop-and-start relationship with school and was never able to complete a year. Eventually, at 14, she dropped out completely to help her family earn money doing hard labor in the rice field. She was awake at 5 a.m., working 12-hour days, all for around $1 a day. Life only got harder as she got older, and her father’s drinking habit became worse. She was terrified when he drank, and often hid at her neighbor’s home until he sobered up.
“Sometimes my family didn’t have enough food to eat, and very little money,” she said. “It was a difficult time for me, and it made me feel really stressed. Also, my father would get drunk and scream and shout, and this was a terrible time for me.”
The violence escalated and forced Len to look for a place safer than her own home.
“I think my life can be difficult because I am a female,” she said. “As a female, you are more vulnerable to abuse and violence.”
Through a Plan International-supported program, Len enrolled in cooking skills training. After gaining new skills in the kitchen she was linked with a two-month paid internship at a five-star hotel preparing every dish from chicken, to fried rice and desserts. Len’s internship became full-time work and now she’s earning an income, in addition to receiving breakfast and lunch to eat for herself every day. Moreover, employees are entitled to a 10-20 percent pay raise every year based on their performance.
“When I look at my life now, I feel happy – and lucky that I can work at a big hotel like this one, and earn income to support my family,” she said. “The money I send my parents is being spent on raising their pigs, but also on household items like food.”
Today, she’s like an ordinary teenager, living an independent lifestyle. She’s made friends at her new job and is now living in the city with some of her work friends. They share domestic duties, split bills, and like to hang out on the weekends.
Len will often return home to visit her family home on her days off. Her relationship with her father is on the mend, and she is proud that she has been able to make such a positive impact on their lives. Len is now supporting her parents Rem and Pong, and sends them money every month. With this support, Rem and Pong have been able to set up a successful pig-raising business, and have built a large pig pen at their family home to keep it viable.
“The training program has changed my life,” she said, “I’d like to open my restaurant selling noodles and rice. It would be a restaurant somewhere urban that would attract lots of tourists.”