NEW LAO STOVE Story Series
The NLS story series tells of stories of people – their past, their struggles, and most of all, their successes and hopes – in rural Cambodia and how their beautiful journey is in part defined by their having crossed paths with the New Lao Stove.
The Story of VON SREY KEO, employee turned entrepreneur.
Von Srey Keo used to be one of the hired hands working for a neighbor living across from her home, in the production of cookstoves. She used to earn $5 dollars. And she used to be unable to accept invitations to weddings.
In other cultures turning down an invitation to a wedding celebration may not be such a big deal. But in Cambodia, it is the venue where social relationships are affirmed, and as such, certain “rules” are followed: if you are invited to a wedding, you are ‘’obliged’’ to come or risk a snub when it’s your turn to do the inviting. One may think that it is impossible for one to not want to go to a wedding – especially if it’s of someone close in one’s circle – but for someone who ekes out a living, spending at least $50 for the gift and dress rental (if you’re a woman) is just impossible. And that is why Srey Keo had turned down many an invitation in the past.
In late-2012, then 22-year old Srey Keo joined a training organized by GERES for would-be New Lao Stove producers. Despite her anxieties, she then took out a loan from the ACLEDA Bank, a microfinance institution, of $1,000 to help set up her business. In the first few months of production, she, with help from her husband, mother and brother, produced some 115 stoves each month.
“Being a worker could not provide enough income for our family. I felt really scared when I started the business – I had no money and had to take out a loan. But I’m not scared anymore. I am confident and we manage very well,” Srey Keo says.
The business is indeed doing good. Her family-ran backyard business is now producing at least 450 units of size-0 and 00 New Lao Stoves | Outcomes magazine | GERES (the two biggest). She employs two other people, and the business has provided livelihood to her brother as well, who profits from driving the remok (motorcycle-driven cart) and distributing the stoves. For her husband and 1-year old son, and mother, the business earns a net profit of around $260 each month. From profits she’d made, she was able to install a roof over a section of their yard, and which is now used as the main production facility. There is more room on the side of her house to expand the facility: it needs a roof and the ground needs leveling. Once that’s done, they’ll be able to produce some 600 to 700 stoves.
“I like being a business owner and manager. Even if it means being preoccupied for more than 8 hours each day, I prefer it to being a worker. As a worker I had very limited income, I always had nothing left to be able to do anything else. Now it doesn’t matter how many wedding invitations I get; I can go to every one of them.” GERES March 2015