In Cambodia, MCC-supported training in cell phone repair helps provide an alternative to migrating for work.
In Mesang, a rural village of rice fields and mango trees in Cambodia’s Prey Veng province, the high school is the biggest building by far, with 500 students enrolled.
On site is a small room that has been used for vocational training for the past six years. With the support of MCC, a local organization called Organization to Develop Our Villages (ODOV) began offering classes in sewing and cosmetology so people, mostly women, didn’t have to leave the village for training or for jobs in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh or out of the country entirely.
This year, though, 11 motivated teenage boys sit around a work bench strewn with wires and extension cords.
MCC photo/Vince Stange
They wear head lamps, wield soldering irons and learn to fix cell phones from a local man who owns an electronics repair store. They are the first group of students to take part in a new, MCC-supported small electronics training program through ODOV.
Mot Reaksah, one of these teens, lives with his grandmother and sister while his mother and older brothers work at factories in Phnom Penh. They send money back to support Mot,* but rarely come to visit because the trip is so long and the taxi fare is expensive.
Before enrolling in the new program, Mot envisioned supporting his family by working long hours for meager pay in Mesang, or moving away from his family home.
In Cambodia, we always try to fix things before we buy new, so it’s a good market to get into.”
— Kong Saoroeth
“I thought maybe I would always drive tractors for farmers,” he says. “That’s what I do in my free time and when I don’t have school in September and October. I also could migrate for work like my mom and two brothers and work in a factory.”
Vocational training is an important way of keeping rural families together, says Kong Saoroeth, an ODOV staff member who works with the vocational training program.
“As an organization, and as residents of Mesang, we had a strong desire to find a way to keep children in the villages,” Kong says. “There were already too many moving away and not coming back. There simply wasn’t any work for them (in Prey Veng).”
Around the world, MCC supports vocational training programs that help give people new skills to support themselves and their families without leaving home. These range from baking courses in Bolivia to tailoring training in Nepal and auto mechanics courses in Rwanda.
Through this program in Cambodia, students are learning to repair older, inexpensive cell phones as well as iPhones and Androids, which some families save up to buy in order to stay in contact with family members and use Facebook. Kong also stops by the class regularly to teach about goal setting, customer service and professional communication.
“In Cambodia, we always try to fix things before we buy new, so it’s a good market to get into,” Kong says. “Many Cambodians have cell phones. Even very poor and old Cambodians have very cheap ones. They can be bought used for about $7. They can be repaired for 25 cents to $1.”
ODOV still offers sewing and cosmetology classes in high schools in Prey Veng, but mostly women take them.
The small electronics class offers an opportunity for young men to gain new ways to contribute to their household income, and it helps to ensure the market isn’t too saturated with people who have learned any one kind of trade.
MCC photo/Vince Stange
In addition to cell phones, ODOV plans to expand the program to teach students how to fix other small electronics, like fans and small motors.
As the need for people skilled in cell phone repair continues to grow, ODOV is expanding and changing this program in order to meet community needs that aren’t currently being met and to provide services in certain parts of the province where they aren’t available.
Meanwhile, Mot is already implementing what he’s learned in a new after-school business. “Well, I really like learning the new skills,” he says, “but I also really like that I am able to make a bit of money while learning them.”
He goes to neighbors to collect phones that have problems. “They really appreciate it because I will pick them up and drop them off at their door, and I like it because I get practice and can make some money — around 5,000 to 10,000 riel (or $1.25 to $2.50) a month,” he says.
That may not sound like much, but it’s enough to help his family and contribute toward his school fees. And this is just the beginning. Mot now says that when he graduates from high school, the skills he’s learned will be put to use for a new goal—paying his way through university.
*In Cambodia, family names come before given names.