Community development officer Loan Leang helps vulnerable families protect their most valuable assets, because in Cambodia, ducks are like bank accounts.
Not just ducks, really, but chickens, pigs, cows, oxen and even fish are like money in the bank. And if owning livestock is like banking, then Loan Leang is like a financial advisor.
Loan was raised in Prey Veng, in the same community where he now works as a community development officer for Holt’s partner Children and Life Association. Prey Veng is one of the poorest districts in Cambodia, and like many families from his village, Loan’s family had very little money for his education.
But although he never completed his formal education, Loan has a unique skill set that he acquired while living and working in Phnom Penh in the late ‘90s.
When the nonprofit organization Veterinarians Without Borders started a program in Phnom Penh, Loan saw an opportunity to receive advanced training in raising and treating farm animals.
Cambodia is one of the most impoverished countries in the world and financial experts estimate that less than 1 percent of the population use bank accounts to save money.
In Cambodia, indicators of wealth are usually tangible items — like tin roofs instead of thatch, irrigation systems for farming rather than reliance on rain, and, most commonly, livestock.
Livestock provide rural Cambodian families with an incredible safety net. They are both food security and a way to make stable income, since eggs, fertilizer, meat and offspring can be sold for profit, eaten for vital nutrition, used to grow gardens or to aid in rice cultivation. For struggling families, Holt often provides a cow, chickens or pigs to help them generate income and grow stable and self-sufficient.
“For poor families who have lived 40 years without a savings account, a cow is life changing,” says Pola Ung, founder and CEO of another Holt partner in Cambodia, the Cambodian Organization for Child Development. “It gives hope.”
Today, Loan is a critical part of Holt’s family preservation and sponsorship programs in Cambodia, because in a community so dependent on the health and wellbeing of their livestock to grow strong, stable and break the bonds of poverty, Loan has an invaluable skill — veterinarian training.
In 2003, Loan moved back to Prey Veng to work for CLA. Over the past 13 years in this community, he has used his skills and knowledge to support Holt-sponsored children and their families.
When Holt provides piglets to help a mom support her children, Loan visits her house to vaccinate the animals and teach the family about proper feeding, hygiene and other skills that ensure these valuable animals live long, healthy lives. And by passing on practical animal-raising skills like how to deliver calves, Loan empowers the families in Holt’s programs to independently care for their children — and eventually thrive without any assistance from sponsors in the U.S.
Loan has three children, and he dreams that his children will one day graduate from college. Loan sees the tremendous value of education, whether that be learning a new skill or trade or spending time in an academic setting. Just as he is using his skills to transform the community where he was raised, he hopes his children will someday have the opportunity to do the same.
Billie Loewen • Creative Lead