My name is Nhek and I was born in Takeo province in South West Cambodia. I was born on a Monday and that is where my name comes from. My first memories are of my parents who brought me up well, I remember them most for their great advice.
I went to school until Grade Seven, which is one year past Primary. My mother and father were farmers and I stopped school to help out. I worked with them in the rice fields until I was 19. At 19, I married my husband, moved to live with my in-laws in Phnom Penh and at 20 gave birth to my son. We had our daughter a few years later. When she was three I went to work in construction as a labourer. I later found a job in knitting and from there ended up in a textile factory. I’ve now been in Phnom Penh for ten years. Not much has changed in that time though life has got more difficult. Rents have increased and getting my son and daughter, now 22 and 18, through education has put us under serious financial strain.
Where I live is very urban. It is bustling with people and full of houses. Most of the people in my area either work in a factory or earn money as a motorbike taxi driver. I have never been far from my home. I have been to the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh but I have never been far away to a really beautiful place.
My day starts at 5am when I prepare food for breakfast and lunch. By 6.30 am I’m on the truck to start work in the factory, where I’ve been for two years, at 7 am. The factory where I work makes shoes. It is extremely hot inside and the chemical odours from the glue we use are so strong I cannot explain. I am not even in the gluing department – I work as a cutter. Despite my seniority and having several years of experience I am employed on 6-month contracts, which I believe is wrong. On average, with overtime and bonuses I make about $130 dollars a month for a six-day week.
Our work is dangerous – the smell of the glue has made people lose consciousness in the past, and others have been electrocuted. It’s unsafe and we need to earn more to survive. To live better I’d need at least $180 a month. I don’t like the factory management where I work. They are dishonest and always shouting but I love the workers. I have four or five very close friends at work and we look out for each other.
I head home between 4 pm and 6 pm. Often I eat dinner with my daughter, she also works at the factory but she is learning English and so after work heads straight out to lessons. She’s usually back at 8pm. My son now lives far away and so I don’t see him as much. He loves boxing and watches it on the TV but he’s not really a football fan. I have never played a game of football in my life. On Sundays, our day off, my daughter and I stay at home and relax but there’s always the housework, cooking and other things to be done!
At work we recently had wage strikes. We managed to get 50% of the factory on strike to demand better wages but there were so many police the others were too scared to leave. The police were blocking and intimidating workers, threatening to arrest any strike leaders – it was really stressful. I am a representative of the workers at the factory and the company we work for has tried to pay me off to stop this work but I refuse to take it.
My son has also put me under a lot of stress recently. When he moved away he got involved with some bad people, needed money and ended up stealing motorbikes. Although he has sorted himself out and now has a job he has left us in debt. Despite this, the thing I am most proud of in my life is my family. I have a loving husband and good children.
Going forward the best outcome for me would be to see my family happy, healthy and well provided for. That’s all I really want or need. As for imagining a worse future – I don’t dare to think about this.
I would like to ask anyone who reads this blog for help. Our employer keeps telling us that things will get better for us but this is not true. It never happens. I have tried as a representative to make change for the workers at our factory but we need your support too, for change to come.