Retirement not an option for many elderly

Posted by khmernews on June 14, 2007

By Chheng Meng and Melinda Marshall
The Phnom Penh Post

Chan Sorn and her coconuts aren’t going any where. In fact, after 25 years of hawking coconuts, lotuses, incense sticks and betel leaf outside Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace 58-year-old Sorn has nothing to look forward to but more years of hard work.
“I am very tired because I have to sell under the sunlight, “ Sorn told the Post.

“I am old and do not have much strength.” But for Sorn, and countless other working single mothers in Cambodia, retirement is not an option.

A widow, she works to support herself and put her four children through school.

Each morning she rises before dawn to hunt for the day’s bargains. A dozen small coconuts cost her about 5,000 riel. Larger ones cost more.

Her stall makes between 10,000 and 20,000 riel a day’s, depending on the weather. Sorn and her third daughter, Thida, 21, who helps with the business, pray to Buddha to keep away the rain.

“When we’re not selling very much, I pray that the Buddha will bring more customers, “Thida said.

“Often, just an hour later, we have more customers.” Sorn spends almost all of her earning on school fees for her children. Leftover funds pay for household expenses and medication for her high blood pressure. On a typical day, Sorn pockets 2,000 riel.

“Although I am poor, I will struggle to support my children in their studies,” Sorn said. “Our society needs knowledgeable people and my children need an education to have a good living in the future.” In Cambodia, many able-bodied older people must work if they are to survive.

Without a universal pension, and increasingly without the traditional support of the younger Odom spends his weekends working as a waiter and learning English.

A daughter attends the University of Law and Economy, and another is married and has a job as a cleaner. Sorn is glad to know her children will have a brighter future thanks to their mother’s lessons about the importance of hard work and education.

Heng Sokunthy, 21, is a student who buys a coconut from Sorn every now and then. “I feel pity for the women selling the coconuts,” she said.

“At their age, they should get to stay home and be supported by the children.” But for Sorn, it is a sacrifice she is proud to make.

-The Phnom Penh Post: Volume 15, Number 2 January 27 to February 9, 2006 “Retirement not an option for many elderly.”


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