Posted Dec 21, 2010 by 2 Comments

Last week, I walked into the byTavi shop with some photo prints in my hand.  It was late in the morning and the women were all hard at work making totes, purses and cosmetics bags.

I expected to walk around the room quietly as the women worked, handing out their portraits individually.  Needless to say, I was a bit surprised when my presence brought all of their work to a screeching halt!

Phanya, who put her photo on the wall next to her sewing machine.

When the ladies saw that I had photos, they all immediately dropped what they were doing and crowded around.  As each woman got her picture, her face lit up with a huge smile.  One of them, 17 year-old Phanya, rushed to stick hers on the wall next to her sewing machine.

The women passed the photos around, oohing and aahing over each others’ pictures, giggling whenever they saw their own.

Several of the byTavi ladies working hard.

At first I thought they were simply excited because they don’t have many pictures of themselves.  And that’s definitely a part of it.  But as I watched these feisty women getting back to work, regularly stealing glances at the photos of themselves, I realized that something deeper was going on.

These women, for the first time in their lives, are proud of themselves.  Their portraits remind them of the new people they have become.  Because of byTavi, they have a reason for self-esteem…


byTavi is a micro-enterprise initiative started by the Center for Global Impact in an area of Phnom Penh called Takhmao.  Smack in the middle of this very poor community, byTavi helps 16 women and girls who would otherwise be wallowing in abject poverty or working long hours for little pay at a nearby sweatshop.

Because they are being empowered with skills, equipment and a job, these women and their daughters can avoid the terrible system of sex trafficking that is so prevalent in their neighborhood.  And because their work has a market in the U.S., they make real money for their labor.

I had the opportunity to spend several days in Takhmao, hearing the stories of these incredible women, eating meals with them and even spending the night in one of their homes.  Through it all, I was greatly encouraged.  They have something to be proud about and it shows!

Four byTavi women proudly wearing their brand new eyeglasses!

Common Themes

On my first day in Takhmao, I sat down with several of the ladies to hear their stories. They all have unique lives and backgrounds, but the more I heard, the more I noticed common themes start to emerge.

For example, quite a few of them were married around age 15.  Most of them used to work 10 hour days in factories for less than 20 cents an hour. Many have unemployed husbands.

Almost all of the women mentioned having medical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes or poor eyesight that they have simply lived with for years, knowing that seeing a doctor was far too expensive.

But as they talked, I noticed that it wasn’t just their poverty that these women had in common.  There was something else that each one mentioned without fail: just how much byTavi has changed their lives.

Sreymao, 26, who has been with byTavi for three months.

Starting to Dream

Phanya used to work in a clothing factory. For 8-10 hours a day, 7 days a week she would work, all to bring home around $45 a month. “Now I make a lot of money and I have time for my family and for church,” she told us with a smile.

Sreymao mentioned how much she loves working with the other byTavi women.  “It’s like a family,” she said.  Sokleang had a similar feeling. When asked if she likes working here, she said, “I’m so happy I want to cry!”

Their medical needs are starting to be met as well.  Just last week, CGI bought four of the byTavi ladies much needed eyeglasses, something they could never afford before.

For the first time in their lives, these women are starting to dream.  Chear dreams of making dresses someday. Gin dreams of starting a small business.  Sreymao dreams about one day owning her own piece of land.

Mam’s sons hanging out in her one-room house.


One of the women, Mam, was excited to have me spend the night with her family.  Although she lives in a tiny, one-room house, she constantly beamed with pride as she told me about how things are changing.

For the first time, Mam said, she can comfortably afford school fees for her three children.   Hunger is no longer an issue now that they have money for three meals a day (something she was excited to show off when she served me a big breakfast of porridge and liver!).

And although their house is small and the family still sleeps on mats on the floor each night, Mam talks about her vision of someday having her own property, a bigger house and a garden.

Mam represents for me a truth that I’ve come to understand here in Takhmao; the byTavi women are proud.  They’re proud of their work.  They’re proud of their paychecks.  They’re proud to be providing for their families.


Three of the byTavi ladies who insisted on having their picture taken with me! Mam is the one on the right.

In fact, the other night they showed me just how proud they were by throwing me a big dinner party.  I was expecting to have dinner with one or two of the ladies, but when I got to their home, almost the entire byTavi team was there!

They said the feast was in my honor, but I had a sneaking suspicion that I was simply an excuse for them to celebrate what God is doing in their midst.  They love being together.  They love having food on the table.  They love having the freedom to be hospitable.

As I sat at the head of the table, listening to the byTavi ladies laughing and talking, I knew I was seeing a whole community of changed lives.  The kingdom of God has been breaking into Takhmao, and these smiling women were at the forefront of that transformation.

And I’ll be honest with you.  Knowing how far they have come in the last two years, I was proud of them too…

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Next Steps
    • Read the book Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof to see how micro-enterprise initiatives like byTavi are making a tremendous difference around the world.
    • The totes and bags the women make are sold in the U.S. on Take a look at their online shop. Every purchase you make will directly help these women succeed!
    • The Center for Global Impact needs many prayer and financial supporters to keep its operations running. Take a look at their website to see how you can get involved!
    Next Steps

About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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  1. Jim.M said... 


    December 28th, 2010 at 8:54 pm  

    Very cool story, and looking at CGI’s website it was awesome to see the seeds for what you have written about were planted here in Indiana. You know Barry, again it’s Gods mighty power and faithfulness in turning a just a little into a great bounty. No words fully describe it.

  2. Breanna said... 


    January 10th, 2013 at 12:02 pm  

    I love this story! I loved reading about their reactions to receiving their picture, the difference byTavi has made in their lives, and how they are dreaming again. Simply incredible. :)

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