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Friday, December 09, 2011

Cambodia must address electoral capacity gaps to ensure freedom of speech – UN expert

Surya P. Subedi, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia

9 December 2011 – Cambodia must address the capacity gaps within its electoral system to ensure freedom of speech and encourage debate among its political parties, a United Nations expert said today, urging the Government to take the necessary measures to ensure free and fair elections next year.

Special Rapporteur Surya P. Subedi, who just finished a six-day visit to the country, said that he was particularly concerned about access to mass media in the lead-up to the commune elections next year and the 2013 parliamentary elections.

“I have had concerns expressed to me that a number of political parties have been denied access to the mass media on an equal footing, or have encountered difficulties with local authorities when they try to claim their right to participate in a free and fair election campaign,” he said.

Mr. Subedi also noted that during his visit, he received allegations by several stakeholders claiming civil servants, military personnel and police members have campaigned for political parties using government resources. At the same time, he said State authorities assured him they would look into the allegations.

“I was assured that government will be instructing all personnel working in these particular groups that they should not participate in any political activities whilst working in their official capacities, which includes the use of government resources, and that neutrality is to be paramount.”

During his visit, Mr. Subedi met with government officials in charge of facilitating elections in the country, the national police, members of civil society, and members of various political parties, as well as citizens who have been affected by the human rights situation in the country.

Mr. Subedi said he would provide the government with concrete recommendations on how to address the capacity gaps. He is also due to present a report on his findings to the Human Rights Council in September next year.
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Encinitas Group Improving Lives in Cambodia

Microloans for Mothers is spearheaded by a Cardiff man.

Two dollars will barely buy you a cup of coffee in Encinitas, but in Cambodia that’s what the average person survives off per day. Poverty is rampant there and it’s especially hard on single mothers, many of whom raise their kids on a monthly income equal to about 50 US dollars. To say they struggle would be putting it mildly.

But an Encinitas-based nonprofit has figured out how to harness the power of micro-lending to help these women. The group, Microloans for Mothers, gives them very small loans so they can launch their own businesses. The goal is to help them become independent entrepreneurs while teaching them how to save money.

Some of us spend $100 on a routine trip to the grocery store without thinking much of it. In Cambodia, $100 can and has changed lives. Take Kim Vanny, a single mother of two living in the slums of Phnom Penh. She, like many women there, ran a small snack store out of her home. After receiving a $100 loan through the non-profit, she was able to grow her business considerably, even adding a Karaoke machine for customers. She’s been able to turn a nice profit, which she’s now using to send her kids to school and provide them with more food.

“To get this program going, I did a lot of research about how micro-lending works,” said executive director Niels Lund, a Cardiff resident of 25 years. Microloans for Mothers follows the model that began in the 1970s with the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, which helped many in that country rise above poverty through self-employment.

Lund first realized the need in Cambodia after he traveled there for work with Class Arts, Children, Technology (Class ACT) another Encinitas-based nonprofit he help found. Class ACT was launched about ten years ago with the aim of brining more art programs to our local schools. In 2008, the non-profit began a global outreach, working with school children in Cambodia. This is when Lund realized that many of these Cambodian school children came from homes with single mothers who often couldn’t make ends meet.

“I came back from that trip and I just wanted to help these mothers,” Lund recalls. And now that’s precisely what he’s done. Microloans for Mothers started about one year ago with five women in the program, and today it’s grown to include about 30 mothers. Lund hopes that by this time next year, the group is helping 70 mothers.

“When you start talking about art and Class ACT’s mission, you lose people in about 20 seconds — but this, they get right away. People understand it, and they want to help.”

Because Microloans for Mothers branched out of Class ACT, the two non-profits are still run in conjunction. All of the mothers who get loans have children who attend schools in the Class ACT program. Once a mother gets a $100 loan, she pays a $10 interest, which is donated to the school her children attend.

The average monthly income for the first group of mothers in this program is about $135 per month, a significant increase from the $50 most in the country are accustomed to living off of. Now that these women have paid back their initial loan of $100, they will be given a $150 loan, and then a $200 loan. The hope is that with each cycle, the women’s earning power grows.

Mothers in the program also meet weekly for free business training and fellowship — and as they pay back their loan, they also contribute to personal savings accounts. “The savings accounts are important because many of these women are so used to living day-to-day, it’s hard for them to think long term, but we try to teach them the importance of saving some of their own money,” Lund explains. Microloans for Mothers staff members, who are also Cambodian, meet with the mothers monthly to track their progress.

On a recent trip to Cambodia, Lund got to see some of that progress for himself as he visited with the mothers face-to-face. Though they may lack material wealth, Lund said there is an abundance of love within these families — something we could learn from.

“You look around here and we have so much stuff, more stuff than we could ever need. And when you visit there, they don’t have a lot of stuff. But you get a clear sense of how close they are in their family. There is no Facebook. Their family is their social network. Family is everything to them. You can see it. You can feel it.”

Microloans for Mothers’ success has been made possible thanks to support from several local groups, including the Encinitas Rotary Club — and through fundraisers, like the recent Live Rock Love benefit concert in Cardiff, which included donations from several local business, including Bliss 101, Encinitas Elks Lodge, and Isabell French Pastry CafĂ©.

If you would like to help, Microloans for Mothers is always looking for volunteers to help with events. The nonprofit also has a booth space on the north side of Seaside Bazaar every Saturday and Sunday in December before Christmas, and Friday, Dec. 23. The group sells bags, scarves, and bracelets from Cambodia — all ranging $20 to $5 with proceeds benefitting the nonprofit. A portion of the booth is also dedicated to Class ACT, and includes an area for kids to create art.

Microloans for Mothers also hosts a happy hour called Microbrew 4 Microloans the first Tuesday of each month from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Encinitas Elks Lodge.

For more information, or to read Lund's blog about his recent trip to Cambodia, please visit You can also follow Lund on Twitter at @classactarts. 

Do you know of another Encinitas-based nonprofit you’d like to see featured on Patch? Send an email to editor Marlena Medford at Read more!