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“It’s not all about money!”

A story about a Cambodian “Friends Help Friends Saving Group”
By Tha Kok, Martina Graf

Friends Help Friends Saving Group, CambodiaDuring a forest hike to an old monastery in the frame of the 26th International Leadership Workshop for Rural Youth in Germany I got the chance to get to know Tha Kok while walking next to him. This was the first time I heard his story, and he told me about his country Cambodia.

I was very impressed how he followed his path of life despite facing many significant difficulties. Growing up in a poor family, Tha Kok step by step made his way out of poverty following his vision toward a better future for all people in Cambodia. He showed and still shows courage and discipline.

Since 2004 (the year he started studying) Tha Kok has been involved in youth and social activities. It is now more than 4 years since he started to act as a Chairman of a Youth Saving Group in Cambodia so called “Friends Help Friends Saving Group” (FHF). Since 2012 Tha Kok works as a Program Assistant of Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF)

Like most of Cambodian youth, when starting to study – youths represent more than 30% of the total populations –Tha Kok was struggling with:

  • The lack of opportunities and accessibility to universities of high qualities due to financial shortage.
  • Low number of entrepreneurship and a deficit of creative ideas
  • Absence of emotional and financial support for youth’s creativeness and personal development.
  • Not having clear financial management, plan and vision. 
  • A deficiency of properly functioning youth networks, due to a lack of ownership and participation.

After listening to Tha Kok’s story I was wondering and asked him the following question: “But how did you overcome then all those problems mentioned before and made your way?”

Tha Kok,  “Friends Help Friends Saving Group” (FHF), CambodiaTha Kok said: “You know, actually it is very simple. If we all help each other we can overcome the problems we face in Cambodia and help young people towards a better education and future. The FHF Youth Saving Group makes it possible.”

Curious to learn more I’ve asked him: “But what does that mean a “FHF Youth Saving Group”? “

That was the moment when Tha Kok started to tell me something I didn’t know before or at least not in this kind. And also it was the moment when questions not needed to be asked any more.

But let’s listen now to Tha Kok: what he is telling about how the idea of FHF Youth Saving Group in Phnom Penh was established and how the concept of it looks like.

“The concept of saving group is not new for Cambodia. With the rational of establishing Youth Saving Group in Phnom Penh, a small group of youth together started to learn about the basic concept, overall principles and guideline of establishing, managing and leading the saving group through field visits to the rural saving group communities, consultation with the rural saving groups leaders, expert staffs, and other resources persons.

After learning and consulting with the external resource persons, the small youth group came together to discuss and create their own suitable principles (monthly meeting, saving, borrowing, returning, interest rate, benefit sharing etc.) in a democratic way.

The management committee then was elected as the following position: Chairman, Financial Officer, Credit Officer, Cashier and General Secretary. They implemented and followed their rules together to ensure the saving group smoothly proceeds. At the same time, the members of the saving group played a very important role in ensuring the saving group smoothly and its sustainable development. Through regular and on-time monthly saving, borrowing, and returning; sharing and contribution of ideas and comments; observing and giving feedback, the “work” of the saving groups was improved permanently.

The FHF Saving group started 2009 with 10 members and a startup capital of about 200 USD. Till July 2013 the number of members has increased of about 91 members with a total capital of 62,539.19 USD.
It’s to say that the FHF saving group has two types of membership: Core members and deposit members. Each member has its own account and shares. They need to save the money every month to increase their capital with their monthly share profit.

But it’s not all about money! Saving group has great roles and contribution in youths’ personality development, self-reliability, and positive future financial perspective, health-positive and initiative thinking, social networking, business creation, youth’s issue problems reduction, and social development and welfare.

So far, the FHF Saving Group’s members borrow the group money to use on different priority dimensions such as:

  • Pay school/university fee
  • Buy learning materials
  • Invest in small agricultural sector
  • Create small business
  • Build/repair/buy their house
  • Buy motor/car as transportation means
  • Help their family’s members
  • Use for their thesis writing etc…..

In conclusion, I can say that the saving group shows great contribution and advantages for Cambodia’s society and youths. It plays a big role in solving social problems and youth problems through the incredible and flexible, affordable, responsible and sustainable financial support.

It is a wonderful movement that now there are more and more youth saving groups have been established in Cambodia especially in Phnom Penh such as CAN Youth Team Saving Group (CYTS), Community Management Course Saving Group (CMC), Saving for Our Future (SOF) particularly RUA students, Ladies Saving Group (LSG), Youth For Future Saving Group (YFF) etc.

These saving groups have built their big network so called “Friendship Saving Federation” for consulting, discussing and giving ideas for dealing the problems happen in each saving group.

Finally, I would like to say “thank so much” for all youth members, who always contribute their active rolls in the saving group and participation. Without such participation, the saving group wouldn’t exist.”

After Tha Kok had finished telling and explaining the concept of FHF Youth Saving Group, we almost arrived at the old monastery in Herrsching, the destiny of our hike. It was a great learning experience for me and left me back with great respect for Tha Koks work and all the members of all those Saving Groups in Cambodia.

Check Kok Tha’s blog: http://koktha.wordpress.com/