Banking on buffaloes: Sokim’s story

In the field article written on the 29 Feb 2012

Sokim and her grandson Nat Vaneath. Photo: Dustin Barter/OxfamAUS

A couple of weeks ago, we introduced you to Yuh Met, one of the first people in Kandek Village to receive a buffalo from Oxfam’s buffalo bank. Now it’s time to meet his sister, May Sokim.

Since Sokim (49) received a buffalo in 2010, she hasn’t looked back. Her rice harvests are booming and she no longer has to labour for other families. She’s got spare time to pursue other activities, and has high hopes for the future. She also happens to be the manager of her village’s buffalo bank.

Not bad for a single mother-of-three who lived in a refugee camp for many years.

Coming home

Having lived in a refugee camp with her then-husband, daughters and mother for so long (1979 to 1992), Sokim’s return home was a challenge. Without land or income, she had no option but to start again. “I didn’t have a field, so I just helped others and got rice for daily living,” she recalls. “Then I bought some land. I helped others and they helped me. It wasn’t easy — labour was all by hand. My rice yield was low.”

Soon afterwards her husband left her. “My husband … went back to work and never returned. He has lived separately since 1992. At that time, our children were 14, 10 and 4 years old.” Of course, without a man in the house, “it was very difficult to clear the field,” Sokim remarks.

Before the buffalo

Occasionally, Sokim would borrow a buffalo from a better-off family to plough her hectare-plot. “If I wanted other people’s buffalo to help, three members of my family would go and help a family with a buffalo,” she explains. ” Then they would come and help plough my field with the buffalo. If we wanted a buffalo to help us, I needed to take children to labour with me.”

By this time, the wet season would have set in, and Sokim’s family would reap much smaller harvests than if they’d been able to plant on time. “[We] had food shortages for about two months every year,” she recalls.

The possibility of owning a buffalo never entered Sokim’s head. “I thought I wouldn’t get a buffalo because I had no money,” she admits.

Photo: Dustin Barter/OxfamAUS

The buffalo effect

When Oxfam gave 10 buffaloes to her village, Sokim — already manager of the community savings group — was elected as manager of the buffalo bank. “The poorest people got a buffalo first. I should’ve got a buffalo in the second round, but … the deputy manager decided to use the leftover money for my buffalo.”

For Sokim and her family, the ‘buffalo effect’ was immediate and ongoing. “I don’t need to labour for others anymore. This means we finish rice planting early and now my children can … do other work for income.” Rice shortages are a thing of the past, and Sokim even has time to devote to her latest passion: her cassava crop. “I am very happy,” she smiles.

Managing the bank

To keep the bank viable, each member contributes 50kg of rice per year. “Sometimes it’s difficult to keep all the rice, so we ask for 50,000 Riel ($12.50US),” Sokim explains. “We use the contributions to buy medicine for any buffaloes that get sick and maybe buy more buffaloes in the future. “

Indeed, the bank’s going so well, that the villagers no longer need Oxfam’s help to run it. “The committee meets every month to record any new baby buffaloes and the health of buffaloes. We then report activities to the community,” Sokim says. “We’ve learned how to take care of the buffaloes and taught people to use the vet if needed. The village has now had six baby buffaloes.”

The next generation

Of these six bouncing buffalo babies, one belongs to Sokim: “I will keep the baby and give the mother to another family.” She hopes to start her own little buffalo brood soon. “I will try my best to raise many more buffaloes. I want to have a better life,” she declares confidently. “In the future, I want to have money to build a house, buy a moto and a boat.”

At the rate she’s going, there’s nothing stopping her.