“Yes, I did what you told me,” says Vichika. She heads down the lane and returns a few minutes later with her new ATM card and the passbook for her bank account. I hug her. Len and Theda also opened accounts. Yes, our entrepreneurs are well on their way to working their way out of the cycle of poverty. When Vichika finishes the breakfast run, Theda takes over the space and sells cakes and cookies. The drinks cart is doing well and Len is happy with her earnings.
The bank account is a major benchmark. Now they can keep their money save, develop a savings habit and keep track of what they spend. I’ll ask someone else to teach them about saving, because I’ve never quite figured that one out, even though my mother tried, really she did. The new rule is that applicants have to open a bank account before they can get a loan.
Next up for micro-loans are Vansok, Sreylin, Radi and Lalay. They all want $200, which seems to have become the magic loan amount. Vansok and Radi want to get rubbish carts they can pull around, which makes it easier than stuffing recyclables into bags. Sreylin wants to extend the tin roof on her little shack and turn it into a bit of a store that sells essentials.
“Yes, I think it will work,” offers Nick, “because she is in a good place and lots of people walk by here.” Lalay wants to get a bicycle that has a basket on the back so that she can sell goods. I’m a touch vague about exactly what it is she plans to hawk, but there are lots of these peddler-type bikers plying their trade on the streets of the capital.
The entrepreneurs are going to repay their loans at $30 a month. I’ve stressed that we need money to lend it to the next person on the list. Social pressure will also be brought to bear to make sure they don’t miss payments.
When we told the assembled group about the planned trip to the Phnom Tamao Zoological Park – http://phnomtamaozoo.com/ — all hell broke loose. Squealing, jumping up and down, cries of delight. “They have lions and tigers and elephants there.” None of the kids from the dump has ever been there, but everyone knows about it. The zoo is a place of mystery and awe.
Sandie gave me the contact details so it is in the works. The game plan is to load up 35 to 40 kids with some adult supervisors and head out for a day. DITD will cover the bus and lunch at $3 a person. According to Nick, entrance for the locals is free, but I’ll have to pay $5. I asked if Didis – my friend who came to the dump with me – would have to pay as well, “No, she is Indonesian, but she looks Khmer.”
The Tree People
A couple of weeks ago Nick came to tell me, “Lin and the kids are back on Street 110.”
“Not surprised. I knew she wouldn’t stay in the province, so it was a matter of time. At least she had a break from Tran for a while.”
“How did you know,” quizzed Nick, surprised that I wasn’t reacting
“I used to live on Indian reserves in northern Canada.” He didn’t get it, but that doesn’t matter.
It was still early enough in the day as we were headed back to the city so I tapped Nick on the shoulder, “Let’s go see the tree people.” He nodded.
Lin was a touch apprehensive as we approached. She likely thought I would be upset with her. Tram was feeding Siva with a grubby baby bottle and Jivi was playing around.
“The other two boys are at Friends,” translated Nick. Friends is the Mith Samlanh organizatiion — http://www.mithsamlanh.org/ — and they run a good residential programme that morphs into vocational training when the kids are 16. Tivan and Tivin now have a safe place to sleep, food to eat and books so they can go to school. Karma, Inshua’Allah and a puff of ju-ju smoke that Lin and Tran let them go.
Didis and I organized food, water and milk for them. There was nothing more we could do, but at least the tree family ate on Saturday. Ali sold the Boomerang and the space is turning into an Italian restaurant and wine bar so that bond of camaraderie disappeared. Perhaps we can find a sympathetic shop owner in the neighbourhood and pay-forward for some essentials.
Still no identity cards so nobody will rent to them. The monsoon season is drying up so they can go back to sleeping under the tree rather than on the concrete sidewalk under the overhang across the street. We will check on them from time to time.
Dennis slid some more money into my account, so the DITD balance sits at $606.88. If you are looking for the perfect Christmas for that impossible-to-buy for person, give a Down in the Dumps donation and I will send an e-mail receipt and thank you note.
Updates to follow as they unfold.