We are thrilled to announce that Human and Hope Association’s Sewing Teacher, Phalla Yorn, has been recognised on the 2020 Diana Award Honour Roll for her tireless work to empower Cambodian women to break the cycle of poverty. Phalla develops some of the products that are available through Shop on Purpose.
Phalla Yorn was born into a life of poverty in Siem Reap, Cambodia. When she was just 14 years old, Phalla had to drop out of school. Her younger sister had died, and her mother became seriously ill. With her older sister required to look after her mother, there was nobody to earn an income to feed her family. This task fell to Phalla, who began working full-time at a restaurant for just USD$50 a month.
Women in Cambodia face political, social and economic challenges, including gender-based violence, with 21% of Cambodian women reporting having experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence (UN Women, 2015). With poverty and gender issues come other issues, including lack of hygiene, poor health, lack of family planning, poor school attendance and high dropout rates.
In 2013, at age 17, Phalla was approached by the Managing Director of Human and Hope Association, a community centre, to study in a four-month sewing program. Her eagerness to learn, combined with her excellent sewing skills, saw Phalla being hired as a part-time sewing assistant in the program, earning USD$40 a month. As the years went by, Phalla was promoted to be a sewing teacher, and was tasked with providing sewing, life skills, business skills and farming training to mostly women, all of whom were living in poverty and hadn’t finished high school.
37% of girls are enrolled in secondary education at the appropriate age, and only 12% of females continue into tertiary education (UNESCO, 2017). One in four women over the age of 15 are illiterate (UNESCO 2015). These low education and literacy rates significantly limit women’s employment opportunities in Cambodia, who mostly work as low-paid farmers or builders.
Even though Phalla now has the knowledge, confidence, skills and experience to work at a for-profit company and earn a higher salary, she has continued to stick by Human and Hope Association, going above and beyond. Coming from a life of poverty has equipped Phalla with the resilience and resourcefulness that makes her an excellent role model for the students she trains, and she is passionate about empowering others to improve their lives through training and education.
Phalla’s leadership, mentoring and teaching activities have contributed to 30 Cambodian women moving out of the poverty bracket, creating better lives for themselves and their families.
The Diana Award is the most prestigious accolade a young person can receive for their social action or humanitarian work. Well done, Phalla!
I have worked closely with Phalla, and I am proud to have seen her develop from a girl into a woman over the past eight years. Coming from a culture of ‘losing face’, it was at first difficult for Phalla to accept constructive feedback, however with time I have seen her strive to improve her personal and professional skills through feedback, English classes, internal and external workshops, and informal mentoring from her program manager.
Phalla is a confident young woman who has created strong relationships with community members, and she is now seen as a role model to both younger and older generations, which is a rarity in a culture where young people aren’t supposed to educate older people. – Sally Hetherington OAM, Human and Hope CEO and former Operations Manager, Human and Hope Association Cambodia