“I am not nervous to speak with you at all. My life has been full of hardships. At this point I am not scared of anything.”
We met Sreyneang, a woman who has been working inside a Cambodian denim factory for three years, but has worked in the garment industry for many years. We traveled back to her home with her after her shift in a vehicle similar to a tuk tuk, but larger and less put together. The motorbike pulled a wagon with wooden beams across as seats and you had to balance the weight of people sitting, so that it would not tip over. This or trucks with empty backs are what most of the makers in Cambodia take to and from the factory.
“I’ve been sewing since I was 15, my whole life. My husband was a security guard but he got sick. So now my garment maker salary supports him and my two daughters.”
“I work two jobs. I get up early. Take my kids to school. Then I take transport to the factory. At night I work as a tailor to supplement my income. I usually work until 10 or 11PM at night.”
“My home village is 3 hours away but I have a small house I bought here, which is unusual because most of my colleagues in the factory are stuck renting from landlords who raise the rent every time our wages are raised.”
Her home was at the end of a dirt road and there were a lot of children all around. It was one room with earth flooring and a woven mat and benches, but no beds or indoor plumbing, but it did have electricity. She said she saved up to buy this land and built this house because it was closer to work.
“My daughter told me she would drop out of school and start working to help me because she knows how stressed I am. But I said NO. She’s 14. I want her to stay in school and have a different life than me. I want my daughter to go to a school like Parsons and become a designer!”
At dinner, she bought water bottles for all of us, which was very kind because they are expensive. While eating dinner, Sreyneang said she usually has only two spoonfuls of rice for dinner. It definitely put things into perspective and you could see the direct effects of low wages.
Sreyneang said she felt blessed that she met us. She wondered if her life would change from this meeting. We parted ways with WhatsApp numbers, big hugs and promises for a future evening together.
“The world is round and we are all sisters. I want designers to know of the hardships and suffering in my life, of makers’ lives and the low wages we get.”