MADISON, Wis. -- A recent trip to Cambodia was an eye-opening experience for Bill Raker, president and CEO of the $715 million US Federal Credit Union. Raker was traveling as part of a collaborative effort between the World Council of Credit Unions and the Credit Union Foundation of Australia to strengthen credit union growth in Cambodia.
Raker was one of the first foreigners ever to visit the remote location of Krang Ampil Village Bank credit union. First organized in 2001, the credit union has 47 members from a village of about 125 families. Members pool their savings to provide loans for fellow members to buy chickens for raising and selling, fertilizer and rice for planting, and goods for selling in the village market.
One female member used a loan from Krang Ampil Village Bank credit union to buy a sewing machine. She now uses the machine to make silk items that she sells to support her family.
Of his trip, Raker reported, "The two credit unions I visited were in an area that has an agrarian, underdeveloped, minimalist economy. The visit to Cambodia was an eye-opening, life-changing experience."
Raker found people living in wooden homes on stilts surrounded by rice fields. Pigs, chickens and ducks roamed freely around the dirt floors and cattle were tethered inside the houses. Water flowed only from hand-pumped wells, and there was no electricity.
Given the history of conflict in Cambodia, people tend to mistrust government, politicians and each other. "Yet members are learning to trust each other through their experiences with their credit unions," Raker commented.
Founded just last year, Takeo Farmers credit union brings together 1,402 members from 26 village associations. Village members elect volunteer "directors," who oversee the credit union by receiving and accounting for the deposits and approving and administering loans. Takeo Farmers' loans are primarily for agriculture and retail commerce for self-employed members.
One credit union family explained to Raker that they were saving for emergencies, illness and old age. The same family had accessed a credit union loan for an ox cart to carry fertilizer to the fields and to haul their garden produce to sell in the local market at harvest time.