Like many others, female garment workers in Cambodia have faced extreme challenges as a result of Covid-19 – facing an uncertain future, fears for safety, working in busy, high-stress environments while taking care of their families has brought about a host challenges.
Better Factories Cambodia was able to hear from five inspiring female garment workers who, despite the fears and uncertainty they have faced over the past year, have showed, strength resilience and leadership. Read their stories here in their own words.
Sharing childcare tips
Srey Hach is a factory worker in the Phnom Penh area. She works in Quality Assurance, and has been working in garment factories for six years. Her colleagues have found ways of helping each other throughout Covid, and they continue to share tips on taking care of their little ones. In her words:
“This year in November, I delivered a son. He lives with me. I miss him while I’m at work, and it’s more tiring now because I take care of him and work too.
Actually, a lot of people I work with have just had babies. Because we are sharing this experience, we can share with each other what we know. They teach me how to take care of him when the baby gets sick. Some of them have more experience, but for me this is the first time. When I advise new moms, I can share some of my new knowledge, education, and experience of a baby with them.
Even though there’s Covid, I can still work. I can still send money home, take care of my family, provide for my grandparents and siblings at home. I like to help my colleagues too, when they really need it. Everyone around is having the same problems and difficulties.
I want to advise everyone, whether they are old or young, they should help one another. At work, with family, or even on the street, they should help one another.”
Learning to be a leader
Sri Srey Thai is a garment factory worker in the Phnom Penh area who has worked in the factory for around one year. She works in sewing. She has learned much more than sewing from her team lead and will pass that knowledge on to any new colleagues that join her team. In her words:
“I joined the factory only 1 year ago. My team leader is the main person to teach me how to do my work. She is very inspiring; she takes care of me, teaches me, focuses on me. If I’m sick, she calls me, and she worries about me. One time when I was sick, she stayed with me for almost 24 hours. She teaches me and my colleagues to love each other like sisters. She wants us to work well together. She is showing us how to be leaders.
When my colleagues aren’t well, I try to help them too. I make them traditional medicine and help them with heavy things. When I help them, I feel happy. I always feel pity for people who work really hard but are having troubles. I don’t pity myself, but I do pity them. When I see people who are struggling, I want to help.
Even during Covid, I still feel happy. Before I worked here, I felt like I was a child, like a frog in a well. I didn’t see any of the outside world. Now, I’m in a pond, I can see a lot of things around me.”
Giving to others
Thorn Channoch is a factory worker in the Phnom Penh area. She works in the sewing department as an assistant to her team leader. She feels happy to help others and shares the importance of listening to others and seeing how we can help. In her words:
“I have always tried to help my younger sister. During the lockdown, she cannot go study, so she has to study online. But she doesn’t have a smartphone. She also has to pay for online classes, so I help her with the money for materials, like books, clothes, and school supplies. Since the lockdown, she has been studying everyday.
To me, I am happy when I can help those in need. So then the receiver is also happy, and the giver also happy. We should give when we have what they need.”
Teaching the family
Srey Leak is a factory worker in Phnom Penh, working in the sewing department for five years. She is from Kampong Cham. She speaks about how her family is supporting her by helping her daughter with her education during Covid. In her words:
“My daughter is in primary school and there is no online class for primary school. So the teacher takes a picture of the homework and sends it in a chat, and then my daughter completes the homework and sends it back to the teacher. My younger brother helps my daughter to study. He works on the questions with her when her teacher sends them. My daughter always wants to get 10/10 points on her homework, and she always wants to win. She wants to get a reward for her good grades, and the last reward she received was a bicycle. But since Covid, she hasn’t had any exams or grades, so there hasn’t been any reason to ask for a reward.
My brother and daughter live in the province with my parents. Now that she doesn’t have school, he teaches her, but he is also studying. He’s 17. He hasn’t visited Phnom Penh in a long time, but he doesn’t want to move here. He still loves living at home. If Covid ended tomorrow, I think I’d go visit my family first. But I wouldn’t bring my daughter back immediately. It’s good for her in the province, staying with my mom and with my brother teaching her.”
Building a dream
Sovann Saroth works in a garment factory in the Phnom Penh area, in the sewing department. She is from Svay Rieng Province. She shares the importance of working hard and encouraging those around you in order to achieve your dreams. In her words:
“I built my house in the province, after saving for many years. My mom told me that she checked with the fortune teller, and we can do a housewarming party on Sunday July 18, so I took a day off to go to the housewarming. This is my first house to own. Right now I rent a house here in Phnom Penh.
This is my dream. I really want my own house. I really wanted it, so I was able to make my dreams come true. My parents are proud of us, because now their daughter can have her own house.”
In our family, my siblings and my mother encourage me to work hard. They tell me don’t be sad, just keep going. You have to work hard – nobody help you besides yourself. You have to keep going. I feel comforted after hearing their encouragement. They help push me. Even though there’s Covid, it’s not so bad because I have many people around who encourage me. Sometimes, they call me and ask me how I am doing. Are there too many cases? How is the situation here? I say It’s okay, Mom, because we are all being protective of each other. The factory helps us protect ourselves, and we also protect ourselves.”