Le Tonle Guesthouse – Kratie, Cambodia

18 years ago, I first heard of Cambodia. I was reading a Zoobook about dolphins and how Cambodia had endangered fresh water dolphins.  They are actually called Irrawaddy dolphins. Ever since then I’ve wanted to see them.  Recently, three girlfriends and I made the five hour bus ride to the town of Kratie to see the Irrawaddy dolphins.

Honestly, it was an awesome time.  The first night we watched the dolphins during sunset on a traditional Khmer boat.  The second day, we spend the entire afternoon kayaking in the Mekong River with dolphins.  I had so much fun handing out with these women, laughing, and crossing off a huge item off my bucket list.  (Up next: Drinking 100 year old scotch on 100,000 year old ice in Antartica – who is with me?) 

Another great thing about going to Kratie?  We stayed in this awesome training hotel, Le Tonle Guesthouse.

Le Tonle Guesthouse is more than just a guest house.  Le Tonlé Tourism Training Center is a not-for-profit training guest house providing vocational training to disadvantaged youth from Cambodia’s north-eastern provinces of Kratie, Stung Treng, Ratanakiri, and Mondulkiri.  The guest house and restaurant in Kratie provide vital vocational training and a unique opportunity for travelers to support human resource development in Cambodia.  When you stay with Tonlé and support their trainees.

Le Tonlé Tourism Training Center is also a 13 rooms guesthouse located in the center of Kratie.  Danielle and I stayed in a double bed with a shared bathroom and AC and Stefanie and Kat stayed in a double bed with a private bathroom and AC.  Honestly, both were great.  They also have a restaurant providing Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.  Their restaurant offers traditional Khmer dishes and western food.  (I think the crowd favorite was the mango spring rolls with caramel sauce).

Le Tonlé was founded by Tourism for Help (TfH) in 2007 in Stung Treng. In the first five years under the direct management and operation from TfH, 63 trainees (30 women) successfully undertook the one year training course.  From October 1,  2012, the Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT) took over the project from TfH under a memorandum of understanding (MoU) and agreements with the funding support from the Fédération Genevoise de Coopération (FGC) based in Switzerland and supervised by TfH. Another 36 students (20 women) successfully finished the training course under management of CRDT.

Le Tonlé TTC also builds a stable partnership with the Ministry of Tourism, Provincial Department of Tourism, Mekong Discovery Trail Project and Netherlands Development Organization (SNV). Le Tonlé TTC received in 2016 the certificate of ASEAN Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) for Tourism Professionals from the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism.

To expand the impact scope and provide more opportunities in different aspects of tourism and hospitality, a second Le Tonlé center was established in Kratie town in late 2013. The new training center is equipped with practical facilities such as kitchen, a classroom, a welcoming ground floor restaurant, and a classic nine bedroom guesthouse in a traditional wooden stilt house.  In 2014, CRDT decided to focus its efforts on the guesthouse in Kratie, which hosts more tourists, and closed the Stung Treng guesthouse.

Aims & Objectives of the Le Tonlé are simple:

  • To contribute to poverty reduction and ecological conservation of Cambodia by introducing responsible, sustainable tourism and by training the local population to cater for tourists.
  • To give theoretical and practical training to young disadvantaged Cambodians in the different areas of tourism professions to enable them to obtain varied and worthwhile careers.
  • To provide quality training in response to the requirements of tourism professionals in Cambodia.
  • To integrate the values of responsible tourism in the training.

The Le Tonlé training model is Learning by Doing, and our 12 month training course covers a range of industry-specific subjects.

  • Theoretical classes: General English, English for Tourism, Administration & Invoicing, Computer Literacy, Service Excellence, and Ecology.
  • Practical classes: Hygiene, First Aid, House-keeping, Cooking & Food Preparation, Food & Beverage service, Front Office & Reception, and Job Application & CV Development.

    Since its inception, 121 students (63 female) have graduated from the 12 month Le Tonlé training program. 95% of their trainees found work after graduation in guest houses, hotels, restaurants and other tourism providers in the provinces of Stung Treng, Kratie and Ratanakiri.

    Hospitality skills are sorely lacking in Cambodia, simply because of the lack of training institutes focusing on vocation skills. Despite year on year growth of tourist arrivals, and ever growing number of guest houses, hotels, and tourism providers, there is a deficit of suitably skilled staff. The training provided by Le Tonlé equips students with job-ready skills, and employers and tourism operators in the north-east welcome the skills and enthusiasm their graduates bring to their new careers.

    By the way, want to see the dolphins?  Check out this video:

    Want to hear Kat and I singing Justin Beiber?  Check this video out:

    This is the first social good hotel I’ve ever stayed at.  Have you ever stayed in one before?  Know of any others in Cambodia?

May Mission Month – Oaks Parish

There are few moments when the time zone world collide and things work out just right.  For example, 7PM in Portland, Oregon, the perfect time for wine and fellowship, happens to be 9AM for me the next morning, perfect time to be wide awake and visit with my church family back in Portland.  Earlier this week, I got the chance to “call in” to my church back home during their/our May Mission Month.  It was such a blessing to see you all!  I’m so encouraged that Oaks Parish is participating in May Missions Month.  Pastor Bryan asked me to answer a few questions before our chat.  We didn’t get time to get through them all so I figured I would answer them here.  Again, it was so great to see you all.  And for those of you who sent Easter cards – I just got them!  My dad brought them over on a business trip and they were so appreciated.  Thank you!  Ya’ll sure know how to make a girl feel loved!

  • Why did you feel led to life and work in Cambodia?

I’ve had a lifelong dream of traveling to Cambodia, I think it’s because I read in a Zoobook that they have fresh water dolphins and that was enough to sell me on this magical country. In 2014, my parents and I made this dream a reality and spent two weeks traveling around Cambodia. Ever since then, God has been calling me back.

I’m actually spending this weekend traveling to Kratie (about five hours north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia) with a few girlfriends in hopes of seeing these endangered dolphins for the first time!

  • Tell us more about the culture of Cambodia and your work with Daughters.

One thing I love about Cambodia culture is when it comes to food, you share it!  I’ve learned if I’m going on any type of trip to pack twice as many snacks as I need, just so I have the opportunity to share it with people – friends, strangers, kids on the street.  You name it (or in my case: point) – you share it.  I love that food is a very easy to way to bond with people.  At my office, the girls are always sharing snacks with me.  I trust that they won’t give me anything that will make me sick and so far, I’ve tried a lot of really different foods – frog, fermented duck eggs, something I call “fish floss”, and a bunch of other street foods for like $0.30!  I love it.  Just this week, one of my co-workers shared jicama with me!  That was an interesting language opportunity:

Jenna: Oh, jicama!  Khnom nam srok Americ dockinier!  (Broken Khmer for “I eat in America – the same!”)

Bong:  Hicama?  Spell it.

Jenna:  J-I-C-A-M-A.  But the “j”  is a “h” sound.

Bong:  Why?

Jenna:  Well it’s actually a Spanish word.  And in Spanish, “j” is a “h” sound.

Bong:  So no Americ word?

Jenna:  Not really, we just use the Spanish word in America.  But that is okay, because Khmer doesn’t have a “j” sound anyways.

Bong:  Proceeds to “jicama” randomly for the next couple of minutes.

Jenna:  A-ah-nah!  (Khmer: Very good!)

I seriously have no idea how to pronounce “jicama” in Khmer.  But I did learn it is considered a fruit (ply chur) and not a vegetable (bon-lie).

Work at Daughters is going well.  Since I just hit my seven months of being in Cambodia, I’m doing six month updates for Client Update Interviews.  Daughters does this every six months with the girls who are in our Sponsorship program.  It’s really cool to be here for six months and sit down with the same girls who I interviewed during my first month, when I was absolutely clueless, and hear directly from them how their lives have changed.  For example, they have moved into better houses, there kids are in school and doing well, how God is answering their prayers, what they did for Khmer New Year, etc.  It’s really great.  Most of them participate in my weekly work out class so I always ask them what is one thing they have learned in my work out class.  Which always gets a chuckle out of the girls, since this is the main time I really get to hang out with them.  I’m working hard to get all the updates done before July, since I’ll be home for most of that month.

  • How does the gospel meet unique spiritual needs in Cambodia?

In the work I do at Daughters, the gospel provides so much encouragement and fact.

God loves you.

He has wiped away your sins.

There is nothing you can do to make God love you less.

He sets captives free.

He hears you and listens to your prayers.

When you call out to Him, He will rescue you.

He breaks chains.

There is nothing to big/messy,/complicated, etc. for God.

Every day at work, I get the opportunity to speak these words over girls.  Everyday I get the reminder that those truths are also just as true in my life as they are in the girls’ lives.  And for that I’m extremely thankful and blessed.

The spiritual needs for Cambodia are great.  It’s an entire nation recovering from genocide.  There are orphans, fatherless, widows, addicts, abusers, abused, broken people, doing the best they can to survive.  While it’s messy, confusing and a little overwhelming.  There is so much hope, potential and opportunity here.  Generational sin, abuse, addiction and fear are slowly being broken – one person at a time.  Working and serving here is like getting a front row seats to watching people take the first, third and hundredth step forward.  It’s truly a honor to be so close to the action, when you know you didn’t even buy the nosebleed seats.  Being able to cheer people on is definitely the best part, even if it is just in silent prayer walking Bullet around the block.

  • What can the church in Cambodia teach us?

I go to two churches here in Cambodia, one is in English and serves primarily ex-patriots and the other is in Khmer (Cambodian national language).  The number one thing I’m learning from the Khmer church is that God loves worship – not matter what.  No matter if you understand the sermon, the song, the prayer, you can still worship God.  I’m getting more confident in singing a few worship songs in Khmer and if you are focused on the right words and understanding the translation – it doesn’t matter how your voice sounds.  Plus, it’s fun to be encouraged by your Cambodian friends.

On the flip side, I believe the Cambodian church is learning a lot about unity and being in unity with one another as the body of Christ.  This is something I would love to see continue to be strengthened within my Khmer church.  That you can love one another even in the midst of being broken.  None of us are perfect and none of us have all the answers or even the right answers, but we are trying to do life together in community and to do that we need to be in unity with one another, supporting and encouraging one another.

When it comes to my English church, they are so focused on community care.  They love on each other well.  My Bible Study spends one hour just hanging out doing community and one hour on the actual study.  I love the group because we are all doing different things here in Cambodia, some of us are studying malaria, some of us work in human trafficking, counseling, teaching or emergency response and radios!  It’s such a cool bunch of people doing very different things.  It gives me a lot of exposure to what to be praying about for my group throughout the week.

  • What challenges are you facing personally and how can we pray for you?

I’d really love continued prayer for safety and protection.  I’m a single woman living in a third world country so I’m not naive to the fact that what I’m doing is a little risky.  I recently joined a motorcycle group called “Prayer Circle Cambodia” which has historically been a group of guys riding into rural Cambodia to teach about Jesus.  They recently opened up the group to four women and I’m extremely honored to be one of them.  The entire team could use this prayer, but since I’m a noobie, I could use some extra prayer.  (Especially when it comes to cows.)

There is a lot of stuff happening around Cambodia as well.  I would strongly encourage you do some research on your own to what that entails and pray for peace within the country of Cambodia.  We are entering into an interesting time within the nation and prayers for safety and protection could also be applied here.

Have any other questions about life in Cambodia or how you can support the work I am doing?  Leave a comment or send me an email!  I would love to hear from you!  (Also, friendly reminder, I’ll be back in the States July 15 – August 1.)  Please send me an email if you’d like to meet up.

Happy New Year! (April 2018 Update)

April a month of celebration in Cambodia!  The main event is Khmer New Year, which is the emotional equivalent of Christmas.  Everyone goes home to their provinces and spends time with family.  Phnom Penh becomes a ghost town.  Daughters like most of the NGOs and companies here in Cambodia shut down for a week of celebrations.  Before we closed our gates, we had a huge celebration party, which included games, dancing, throwing of baby powder and a massive water fight.  It was definitely my favorite day at work so far.

(Staff water fight for Khmer New Year)

I also celebrated six months of living in Cambodia in April.  Time really does fly here.  I can’t believe how much my life has changed in the past six months and what God is doing in my life.  Every time I reflect on that I’m just in awe of what God is doing to heal this nation and how honored I am to be a part of that story.  It has truly been an amazing time and I know this is just the start and things are only going to get better.

(My confused face over Khmer New Year baby powder fight)

Other exciting news:  I booked my plane ticket home for my brother’s wedding this July.  The current plan is that I will be in Portland July 15 through August 1.  I say “current” because there are some things happening in Cambodia that might change my current travel plans.  I would ask that you continue to pray for the nation of Cambodia, it’s leadership and for peace.  That being said,

I want to see you!

Please, pretty, please, send me an email and let me know when you are free to meet up.  I’d love to catch up, celebrate birthdays, babies, friendships, you name it I want to hear about all of it.  I will give special preferences to friends and family that want to grab craft beer and/or sushi – two things I miss the most living here in Cambodia.  (Okay, I’m joking a little bit about that…or am I?)  So mark your calendars, email me and let’s hang out!

(Me thinking about seeing YOU!)

In celebration of Khmer New Year and hitting my six month mark, I was super blessed to have a sponsor send me enough cash to head to Kampot with Bullet for a few nights of rest and relaxation.  It was my first vacation since arriving in Cambodia and it couldn’t have been at a better time.  Bullet and I spent four days doing almost nothing but swimming and resting.  I finished reading two books (Present over Perfect and Jurassic Park) and started two new books (Option B and Everybody Always).  It was nice to get away from the city and have Bullet off leash being a normal dog again.  You can see him swimming in the river on my Instagram here and in the ocean with a bunch of curious kids here.

(One happy beach boy)

Things at Daughters are chugging along.  I’ve really enjoyed teaching my weekly work out class (hatpran in Khmer).  It’s given me the opportunity to really get to know the girls and build relationships with them.  We dance, hug, and laugh enough to be a work out in itself.  It’s great to see them be encouraging and learning more about how powerful their own bodies are.  It’s also fun to see them encouraging one another.  I’m still working on the sponsorship programs, grants and wholesale orders.  I’m working hard to complete all the sponsorship updates before my home leave and continue to learn more about wholesale shipping.

(Bullet, Samy (Designer), myself, Pey (Stock Manager/Translator) and Mouysim (HR Manager) at a soccer game cheering on Tre (Men’s Leader) from Daughters)

The biggest change in my life for April has been joining the Prayer Circle Cambodia group.  I feel like I have finally found my people here in Cambodia and it has really opened some amazing doors.  Prayer Circle Cambodia is a motorcycle group that Lisa and Dave Everitt connected me too.  For the past 20+ years, a group of men – both expats and Khmer nationals have – have been riding around Cambodia and praying into the darkness.  Recently, I was asked to join the team.  Things are changing here in Cambodia and now is the time for female voices to be seen riding motorcycles, praying and loving on people.  I’m extremely honored to be asked to join and I am working hard to be prepared for what will come along with those expectations.  I’ve been going on practice rides with a trusted friend, Dennis.  You can see a video of one of those rides here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQ8x6N8izQE  While I’m fairly confident rider, there are some things I still need to work on.  Like what to do when a cow charges you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7AUK6IKWoNI  I need to be a strong enough rider that I can do what Dennis did for me – instead of the other way around.  I’m working on securing funds to make this a reality.  The majority of that would be buying my own motorcycle.  I can’t ride my “chicken chaser” of a commute scooter on five day rides into no man’s land Cambodia.  I’m looking into used bikes for about $2,000.  I’ll need to get the seat shaved down so I can touch the ground.  (Yeah short girl problems.)  And then some gear when I’m back home in the States in July.

(Practice ride with my instructor, Dennis)

Again, I’ll be back in Portland, Oregon July 15 – August 1.  I would really love to meet with you.  So please send me an email or Facebook message so we can set something up.  Below are some prayer requests.  I really love hearing from everyone back home.  Share what is happening in your life, how I can be praying for you and if you want to meet up in Portland in July!

I would really appreciate you joining me in prayer in the following ways:

  1. My trip back home to the States.  That it will be a great time with family and friends.  For my brother, Kirk and soon-to-be sister-in-law, Kelsey, wedding and marriage.  That things will continue to remain safe and the government will continue to be respected here in Cambodia.
  2. I’m in the process of ending my relationship with my sending agency, ISM, please join me in prayer that this will be a smooth transition as well as healing from the pain and frustration of working with them.
  3. Finally, that I will continue to listen to God’s calling on my life here in Cambodia and faithfully follow Him.

Nomi Network – Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Here I am rocking my classic Nomi Network basic t-shirt. I live in this shirt!

I first heard of Nomi Network last December when I was attending an anti-trafficking Christmas party.  There was a raffle and my friend won a gift bag from Nomi Network and shared some of the goodies with me.  Since then I’ve been to a few other events put on by Nomi Network and have always been really impressed with the programs they have put on and the products their network produces.

Nomi Network Cambodia exists to train, empower, equip, and connect leaders to organizations that work with survivors and vulnerable communities where there are high instances of human trafficking. Nomi Network Fashion Incubator is an urban-based program which focuses on working with existing social service providers and enterprises to strengthen reintegration for survivors, business growth, job creation, and market competitiveness.

The Nomi Network Fashion Incubator currently offers six different activities here in Cambodia:

  1. Nomi International Fashion Training (NIFT) – NIFT generates the most extensive and regular activities. Each year NIFT offers 12 different course modules, over 140 hours of training at their Incubator Center in Phnom Penh. The modules cover all aspects of fashion business including Market Access, Technical, Design, Logistic, Marketing, Finance/ Planning, and Personal Development. To maintain the highest training quality, NIFT has in-house experienced international trainers as well as guest trainers from the fashion and manufacturing industry. NIFT also offers selected course modules in Siem Reap and plans to expand to more regions across Cambodia.
  2. Network Event  Three times a year, they host events to bring like-minded people together to share ideas, learn from each other and celebrate ones’ successes. For example, In 2016, they hosted Nomi Network Fashion Incubator’s Launch Party in February and a Christmas Celebration in December where they created an intimate, inviting, and creative environment for participants to network, learn from each other, as well as engage in fun and creative activities. In June 2017, the Incubator hosted the event “Behind the Scenes of a Fashion Powerhouse” with guest speakers from Macy’s and Tactical 5.11, who shared industry trends and expertise, as well as their own journeys to success.   Recently, they have added events that promote both local fair trade handicraft sales, as well as connect local and international buyers to producers.

  3. Coaching – Coaching is Nomi Network’s Fashion Incubator’s newest initiative in 2017. They understand that sometimes their trainees and partners need more help than just the NIFT classes. So their experienced trainers provide onsite visits and coaching with clear monitoring and evaluation process in place.
  4. Market Access  Nomi Network currently work with and purchase from nine organizations that have demonstrated capacity or improvement in their production capability for the international market. They work closely with each organization every season to develop new, updated, and marketable products for international buyers. During each development process, Nomi Network Fashion Incubator’s experienced merchandiser provides one-on-one market, business, pricing and quality control consultancy for each organization. This is one of the longest-standing services Nomi Network provides its partners, available since inception in 2009. Each year, they continue to expand and look for new organizations to be part of their production and supply chain network.
  5. Scholarship | Grant – Nomi Network Fashion Incubator offers various small grants and scholarships for both individuals and organizations within their network because they understand that in order for their producers to become sustainable and competitive in the market, they often require financial assistance to address their producers’ needs. These funds often go towards child care, staff training, capital improvement, and many other social issues which might not be covered by their current operational income.
  6. Partnerships and Capacity Building – Their advanced curriculum equips non-profits and social enterprises that have production capacity with key fashion manufacturing skill sets, some of which include product pricing, retail merchandising, trend forecasting, and product development. Nomi Networks specialty is providing one-on-one technical assistance, production assistance, and mentorship to local entrepreneurs that lead social enterprises which employ survivors and women at risk of human trafficking.   
Nomi Network pup pencil case.

As a result of their partnership, these enterprises develop and sell more products in the global marketplace, improve retail relationships, and grow their staff while improving their standards. Recently, those participating in their advanced training curriculum were surveyed by the Asian Development Bank and Nomi Network scored in the top tier for delivering impact. Through their programs, the following organizations have gained additional training and technical skills and/or the opportunity to co-produce products and receive distribution support.

Are you into ethical fashion?  What is your favorite brand / program and why?

Banteay Srey Project – Kampot, Cambodia

Entrance to Banteay Srey Project

Bullet and I are celebrating Khmer New Year in Kampot!  We are swimming and exploring outside Phnom Penh and loving it.  I didn’t make many plans for my time here, but right next door to the bungalow we are staying in the Banteay Srey Project.  It is a sanctuary for women (and apparently male dogs). Banteay Srey Project operates as a vocational training center for Cambodian women, providing them with well-paid jobs and many ongoing training opportunities.

The Project runs three social enterprises including a women’s spayoga studio, and a vegan café.   I got a treatment at the spa and then a great fresh fruit smoothie afterwards from the cafe.  The spa and cafe offer an ideal opportunity for Khmer girls coming from difficult circumstances to work and develop themselves in a peaceful, restorative environment.

Private swimming dock – look at the planters!

At the project, trainees are given step-by-step instruction to develop skills continuously.  Through providing high quality services to predominantly foreign guests and communicating in English, they develop confidence, cultivate a new sense of self-esteem and learn useful skills for future employment. They are given excellent working conditions, medical benefits, maternity care and a fair salary.

Kampot is a growing tourist destination and the Banteay Srey enterprises have proved to be incredibly popular. Banteay Srey works hard towards the realistic goal of financial sustainability – each of the Banteay Srey Social Enterprises are self-sustaining and also contribute the bulk of expenses needed to operate the overall project. They also gratefully receive outside donations which are used for major costs such as extending their training program, operating a small village school and maintaining a residence for trainees in need.

I love this. I need to learn how to tie a sarong into a swim suit!

All women are invited to relax and pamper themselves in a peaceful, restorative environment: the Banteay Srey Women’s Spa. The spa offers skilled massage, traditional Khmer herbal treatments and a wide variety of other spa services.

Guests are invited to spend the day with us: indulging themselves with our spa services, connecting with other women (I ran into a young woman who was shopping the night before on the same street as me in Kampot), swimming (check out Bullet and his big stick) and sunbathing on our private river deck. An on-site yoga studio offers classes on a large river view balcony. Guests can also enjoy delectable fresh fruit juices, teas and vegan Khmer cuisine from the Deva cafe menu.

Guests can spoil themselves knowing that all spa proceeds are used for the empowerment of young Cambodian women coming from difficult circumstances.  Even though I didn’t think through much of the post treatments swimming in a river / sunblock situation.  I definitely wanted to support this program and tried the Ultimate Organic Facial.  Natural local ingredients loaded with vitamins, minerals, natural moisturizers, fruit acids, antioxidants and enzymes. It was a hour long facial!  Plus, I had Bullet with me – so he slept for the most part under my massage table.  I left super relaxed and with a brand-new baby soft face.  Until I jumped in the Kampot River and then covered my face with sunblock.  Here was the series of treatments:

  1. Cleanse with yoghurt & kaffir lime.
  2. Steam with fresh mint.
  3. Exfoliate with black sesame and coconut with palm sugar coconut lip scrub.
  4. Massage with homemade coconut oil.
  5. Mask with honey & papaya.
  6. Tone with green tea & fresh cucumber.
  7. Moisturize with aloe vera.

I think the best part of the facial was all the scents.  It definitely kept me curious.  I’m still here for a few more days so I might try out another treatment or two!

Have you been to Kampot before?  What social businesses did you enjoy?

Three Corner Coffee Roasters – Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Three Corners Coffee Roasters.

Coming from Portland, Oregon, when I first landed in Cambodia I had a hard time finding good coffee.  By “good” I mean, not mass produced instant coffee with powered milk and sugar already mixed in and not Khmer coffee with canned sweet milk.  I was so excited when I found Three Corner Coffee Roasters.  It is hands down the best coffee I’ve been able to find in Cambodia.  As an added bonus, it’s

Three Corner Coffee Roaster currently sources its Cambodian Robusta coffee from both the Khmer and indigenous growers in Mondulkiri Province.  Using the “direct trade” method, they hope that increasing the demand for their green coffee beans at good prices, will encourage farmers to continue to grow coffee and  as a social enterprise, Three Corner Coffee is dedicated to developing the coffee industry in Cambodia in such a way that is sustainable, culturally sensitive, and maximizes the social benefits to these farming communities.

History of Coffee in the Kingdom of Cambodia:  Currently there is very little information on the history of coffee in Cambodia. It is known that coffee was first introduced to Cambodia by the French during the same period as it was introduced in Vietnam and Laos. The coffee grown in Cambodia is primarily robustacoffee, and though the stories of the arabica coffee being grown are quite numerous, the elevations in Cambodia very rarely exceed 800 meters (2,624 feet) making it difficult to grow any arabica coffee, other than hybrids such as the catimor hybrid variety.

The Annamite Mountains that extend through both Vietnam and Laos also make up the Cambodian northeastern “highlands” of Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri Provinces. The predominant red soil of these provinces is excellent for a multitude of crops including rubber, most tropical fruits, black pepper, cassava, cashews, and of course coffee. Coffee farmers in these highlands are primarily made up of the indigenous tribes that have lived in the area since before the well-known Angkor Era of Cambodia’s history. Even now their tribal customs and language have changed little and they remain a primarily agricultural people. They have always planted rice, though other crops such as coffee have been successfully introduced into their agricultural repertoire over the years.

Currently the amount of Cambodian plantations cultivating and harvesting coffee is in a strong decline. Over the last 10 years, the number of known coffee plantations has been reduced by at least 70% and the total amount of green coffee beans that are produced is unknown since most of the beans are obtained by Vietnamese middle-men to be mixed with and sold as Vietnamese coffee or they are sold and roasted locally. The Cambodian coffee industry currently has no market available for their green or roasted coffee beans due to the lack of quality control at the plantations and the roasters alike.  But Three Corners Coffee Roasters is planning on changing that.

At Three Corner Coffee they are committed to:

The Industrial Development of Cambodia – through directly challenging the current industrial standards, not only at Cambodia’s national level, but also at the international level. To help to produce and promote 100% Khmer products that have a high standard of hygiene and quality, giving Cambodians the ability to compete in today’s and tomorrow’s global economy.

The Helping of Underprivileged Cambodian Men and Women – by providing a safe and supportive work environment that allows them to take care of themselves while on their road to recovery. To provide on-the-job training to these men and women, so they will gain confidence in themselves and their work, later benefiting them in their search for a good job.

One way they do this is via the White Lotus Project that are employed by Three Corner Coffee Roaster make up a very important part of the team and deserve credit for their work, but not in such a way that would compromise the healing the women are undergoing.  Three Corners Coffee Roasters chooses to support these women by providing them a safe and supportive working environment through which they can receive job training that is critical to their future success.  Three Corners Coffee Roasters wants for them to go beyond the labels placed on them and to find success in their own lives, so they also respect their right to privacy.

Providing the Best Quality Products to Responsible Consumers – by making sure that every step of the coffee roasting process, from bean to bag, is at, or higher than, the top of the industry’s standards: from the agricultural sector, where they cooperate with farmers, using the direct trade model, to help them produce premium grade coffee beans; to the production sector, where they double, and triple, check their coffee as a part of their regular routine.

 Know of any social good coffee roasters around the world?  Leave a comment and let me know about them.

Friends International – Phnom Penh, Cambodia

T-shirt bag made by Friends International.

I first fell in love with Friends International, when I came to visit Cambodia with my parents in 2014.  I stocked up on handmade journals from their gift shop for all my girlfriends back home.  To this day, they say it’s one of the best journal/gifts, out there.  In 2015, I was lucky enough to check out their sister restaurant and store in Laos.  Since living in Phnom Penh, I’ve been able to visit their Friends ‘N’ Stuff fair trade gift shops and their vocational training restaurants Friends the Restaurant and  Romdeng.

Friends-International was born on the streets of Phnom Penh in August 1994. Initially provided services to the street kids found in the Cambodian capital in the aftermath of years of genocide and conflict in the country. The original Friends project, Mith Samlanh (which means ‘Friends’ in Khmer – all programs use a local language version of ‘Friends’ in their name) became a local NGO in 1999.  Friends then went on to expand both programs and partnerships in the following years, developing social business and child protection elements to ensure comprehensive and creative solutions and services for all the marginalized youth and communities they now work with. The 17 children whose lives they changed in 1994 have grown to 100,000 in the ensuing decades, thanks to their innovative partnership model of ‘Together, building futures’.

Hundreds of millions of children  are pushed onto the margins of society around the world. Friends works with children and youth who lack opportunity or are among the most marginalized, and with their parents and their communities. The problems they face have consequences on the whole of society.

“When children experience poverty, poor health, malnutrition, stress, violence, abuse, neglect, inadequate care or a lack of learning opportunities, particularly during the first years of their lives, their ability to fulfill their potential is at risk.” (The State of the World’s Children, 2016, UNICEF.)

  • Unemployed youth – International Labor Organization (ILO) statistics put the number of unemployed youth worldwide at 71 million.
  • Child migrants/refugees – UNICEF estimates that there are nearly 50 million children currently in this category.
  • Children Living Outside of Family Care – UN sources estimate there are up to 150 million children living outside of family care in the world today.
  • Out of school children – recent UN estimates show almost 65 million adolescents between the ages of 12 to 15 years old were denied their right to an education, in addition to 59 million children of primary education that were out of school.
  • Working children – currently stands at 168 million children (source – ILO). More than half of them, 85 million, are in hazardous work.

More than 1.3 billion people live in extreme poverty — less than $1.25 a day. Poverty forces parents in this situation into desperate measures. These include sending their children out to work (often dangerous work with health and safety risks), and keeping them out of school to do that. In some cases, parents will give up their children to institutional care which is detrimental to the child’s well-being.

Poor communities face a multitude of risk factors – these include lack of basic services such as water and electricity, and little or no access to health and education provision. These communities normally have high levels of unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic abuse and crime, and are far from the ideal environment for children to live and thrive in.

People in impoverished communities are often seen as a ‘problem’ by authorities and others, something that is best moved further out of sight into ghetto or slum areas where in reality the ‘problem’ festers and grows. Communities such as these across the world face multiple challenges from poverty and deprivation, creating environments where ‘forgotten’ youth can easily fall into crime, drug abuse and radicalization, and become seen as even more of a ‘threat’ to society.

As individuals, and with Friends businesses, often react emotionally to what they see as the plight of these children.  Friends wants to help.  Friends wants to do something for them.  Friends wants to donate their money and time to them.

Traditional ‘pity charity’ approaches invariably fail because they most often don’t look to the longer term. Throwing money at a problem does not tackle the root cause, but often our emotions are exploited to fund approaches that simply do not work.  We need to ensure that public and other  funding is directed toward empowering and sustainable approaches

Residential Care Institutions (orphanages) are one example. All the evidence points to them being actually bad for children, causing physical, mental and long term emotional harm and stunting development. In fact 80% of the children in orphanages are not true orphans, and could (and should) be reunited with their families. However, we are sold the idea of the orphanage being best for them, despite the fact that supporting institutional care is much more expensive than supporting family based care! A whole industry has grown around this in countries such as Cambodia, exploiting not just the children (the ‘commodity’ in this transaction) but also the good intentions of volunteers, led to believe they can really make a difference to these children’s lives as a part of their holiday.

Friends came up with a set of creative solutions. These make up a holistic approach to tackling all issues children and young people face on their path to becoming productive citizens of their country. From saving their lives to building their futures.

Their innovative social services provide best practice sustainable social integration of children, youth and their caretakers and their communities.

They started many social businesses that support the reintegration of children and youth and make their work financially more sustainable.

Friends International Elephant Tote Bag

ChildSafe is a global Movement protecting children and youth around the world. They give everyone a way to protect children.  The ChildSafe Alliance is a partnership that brings together organizations with a desire to build futures for marginalized children and youth.

Have you ever been to Phnom Penh, Cambodia?  What NGOs did you learn about?


HAPPY EASTER! (March 2018 Update!)


Palm Sunday motorcycle adventures.

HAPPY EASTER!  (រីករាយ​ថ្ងៃបុណ្យ​អេ​ស្ទ័​រ!)  While Holy Week is a celebrated differently throughout the world, it was fun to see how the international church community celebrates Christ resurrection here in Cambodia.  Last week, for Palm Sunday we were given an entire bunch of palm fronds to wave around in celebration – the perks of living in a tropical country.  On Good Friday, we watched The Passion of the Christ in Khmer at Daughters of Cambodia.  I remember the first time I watch The Passion of Christ – it was senior year of high school. My youth group went to see it in the movie theater. I sat between my high school boyfriend and my high school best friend. I remember feeling really uncomfortable with the cries around me. Even in Khmer I still sat with the same uncomfortable feeling amidst the sound of tears around me. But I’ve realize this is what God calls us to – to be uncomfortable and to love even when it hurts. After the movie, these girls circled up and prayed and loved on one another. I think Jesus sat with them too.

Some of the girls at Daughters praying after watching Passion of the Christ.

Since Cambodia has such a small expat community and even smaller Christian community various churches take on the role of hosting Holy Week celebrations.  I went to an Anglican Church for a Good Friday service, where we were encouraged the carry not only our personal sins, but those of our family and missionary works to the cross as representations of more than just ourselves.  I rather enjoyed thinking of Good Friday in those terms and think I will keep that tradition going forward next year.  On Saturday night, I attended a three hour Easter Vigil.  Which included various different creative displays telling the story from Creation to Jesus’ resurrection.  Finally, I attended an Easter morning service at dawn – which included a simple breakfast and fellowship.

How are you and your family / friends celebrating Easter this year? 

Daughters 2018 Wholesale Jewelry Catalog

Things at Daughters are chugging along.  We recently launched our 2018 Wholesale Jewelry Catalog for our international supporters.  The catalog was one of the first projects I started working on in October when I landed in Cambodia.  I got to work closely with our Graphic Design team, showing them examples of good product photography and good catalog layout and design.  It was also a huge lesson in patience.  Something I’m constantly learning and practicing here in Cambodia.  If anyone is interested in seeing the catalog.

Please let me know and I’ll send you a copy.

Tomorrow, I start Level 2 Khmer!  This time, I’m doing language school part-time, meaning I’m only studying Monday and Wednesday afternoons.  This will take 10 weeks instead of five like Level 1.  I’m looking forward to getting back into classroom and expanding my vocabulary even more.  In other educational news, I recently applied and got accepted into Northeastern’s Masters of Science in Nonprofit Management program!  It has been 10 years since I graduated from university, so I feel like now is the time to gain some more education, especially when it comes to non-profit work.  It’s an online program, so I’ll be working on this part-time while living in Cambodia for the next two to four years.  My goal is to attend this program for free – meaning help from financial aid and scholarships.

So if anyone knows of any scholarships, please send them my way!

Outside of work and play, God has been opening some pretty amazing doors.  I’ve recently joined the local home brewing community here in Cambodia and plan on starting home brewing after the Khmer New Year.  Cambodia comes with some interesting challenges that I’ve never had to deal with home brewing back in Portland.  For example, temperature control.  I’ve never brewed beer where the outside temperature is naturally warmer then what you need to keep beer at during the fermentation process.  When I joined the community, one of the members pointed out, “We’ve never had a Christian in the group before.”  I just chuckled and went, “well my church back home makes hard cider together as a community.”  It was a fun way to open the eyes to some non-Christian expats here in Cambodia.  I thought it was interesting that they pointed out that I was Christian and not the more obvious things like – female and younger-ish.  But it is a great group of guys, if anyone wants a beer tour – come visit!  Or you have follow my beer blog, which I’m still trying to maintain.

Martin, Pangha, and one of the Cows for the Kingdom.

Another door that has been opened, involved cows here in Cambodia.  My boss at Daughters, is helping a group of men in rural village better support their families and send their kids to school by investing in their local economy using cows.  Think of it like a mini Heifer International.  In Cambodia, you need to pay for your children to attend school.  So many rural villages don’t have a teacher, since the village can’t afford one.  It is critical for children to gain an education and be issued a 9th grade certificate – think of an American GED but for 8th grade skill level.  This is needed for anyone wanting a non-farming job in Cambodia.  I’ve been helping them build a website and capture the story online in hopes of getting more people involved.  We’ve been calling the program, Cows for the Kingdom.  (Once the website is finalized – I’ll be sure to send a link!)  Right now, we have 15 cows supporting a few families and sending a lot more children to school.  This is key in preventing young girls from ending up like the women we see at Daughters of Cambodia.  (Personally, I think it’s adorable – some of Martin’s friends back home in Germany have invested cows in their wive’s name – so we have a few cows with very English sounding names, like Maureen, for example.  If anyone is interested in buying a cow for their wife/girlfriend, or just because, please let me know).

Dave and the Moto Prayer Group.

Finally, I’ve been asked to join the Moto Prayer Circle, that my mentor, Dave, has been leading.  Dave and his wife, Lisa, have been huge in encouraging and loving me since I landed in Cambodia.  They have ties to Portland, Oregon and Imago Dei Church.  Dave and his friends, have been riding motorcycles all over Cambodia for 24 YEARS, praying and asking God to open hearts in Cambodia.  They also encourage local pastors and provide emergency relief when needed.  Dave recently asked me if I would be interested in joining the group riding.  Up until I was asked, I thought it was a “boys-only” sort of group.  But myself and one other lady were asked to join the next ride most likely happening in May.  I’m not sure what the plan is, but I feel so honored to be asked.  It will definitely be a huge step in my prayer life and a new way to see Cambodia.

Bullet and I saying good bye to Susan.

Being part of an international expat community means saying good bye comes often. This month, Bullet and I said our first good bye. This is Susan, she was such an answer to prayer when I was at my rock bottom this January. She lived in my neighborhood, went to my church, was in my Bible study and loved Bullet well. She was here serving an Irish NGO, Care for Cambodia, working with rural schools all over Cambodia. I’ve been so blessed to have her in my life.

Happy Bullet at a Doggie Meet Up!

Bullet is doing great here in Cambodia.  We started checking out doggie play dates, similar to the States, people getting together to let their dogs run around.  We’ve been to two meet ups so far and one doggie day care.  Bullet is still trying to learn the difference between “street” dogs and “expat” dogs.  Most Khmer are scared of dogs, so they get beaten and thus are very aggressive.  It’s also common to eat dog here.  So I’m learning to keep an eye on him while we are out for runs and he’s learning which dogs are friendly and which dogs are sneaky biters!

Below are some prayer requests.

Again, I really love hearing from everyone back home.

Hugs from Cambo,

I would really appreciate you joining me in prayer in the following ways:

  1. Travel during Khmer New Years.  Yes, Cambodia celebrates three news years – December 31, Lunar New Years, and Khmer New Years.  I have the week off and am planning to travel to Kampot for some much needs relaxation.  I had a friend coming to join me from the States, however, some things came up and he’s no longer coming.  Please pray for safety for Bullet and I on this solo journey.
  2. I’m starting Khmer Level 2 language tomorrow.  Pray that I can handle the increased vocabulary and my “old” brain and keep up with everything expected of me.
  3. Finally, that I will continue to listen to God’s calling on my life here in Cambodia and faithfully follow Him.

Dai Khmer – Phnom Penh, Cambodia

I learned about Dai Khmer from a co-worker of mine who blessed me with some soap in honor of International Women’s Day.  As we all know, I love soap so I was excited to learn more about this social enterprise.  Focused on empowering women in Cambodia through handmade health and wellbeing products using 100% natural  materials.  Dai Khmer stands for ‘Khmer Hands’ and represents the care and compassion of the people who envision a happier and abundant world.         

Dai Khmer strongly believes that we all have the capability to change someone’s world though small acts of care and love. Dai Khmer started with a mission to create a a tribe of change makers who can support each other by sharing the skills and resources to start a ripple effect of social change in rural Cambodia.  It is all about connecting the passionate people who want to create the happier and sustainable communities, with the resources they need to build a social business that can accelerate the economic development at the grassroots level.

The idea was inspired by the discussion amongst few friends about the social issues and what they could do to address it during Vichka’s visit to the Cambodian Weaving Village (CWV) in Takeo, Cambodia. They decided to replicate that CWV business model to create employment for the rural women by producing hand made natural health and beauty products using age old techniques that have been disappearing. Vichka wanted to inspire Khmer women by becoming the role model of change and breaking through the barriers that the women in rural Cambodia have been facing for decades.

According to a study by the World Bank, the growing body of evidence proves the linkages between empowerment and effectiveness of the development on the society and personal grassroots level.  Personal empowerment is  “…a process in which a person who lacks power sets a personally meaningful goal oriented toward increasing power, takes action toward that goal, and observes and reflects on the impact of this action, drawing on his or her evolving self-efficacy, knowledge, and competence related to the goal.”

How Dai Khmer does it:

  1. The Dai Khmer team who work on the ground, find the women living in poverty who want to become financially independent.
  2. They train and equip the women with the skills they need. They become artisans!
  3. They connect them to the resources.
  4. They connect them to the market (you)!
  5. The women begin to generate income to support their everyday living.
  6. They inspire others in their community, causing a multiplier effect.
  7. Remaining profits are reinvested back into the business to scale the impact.

Ever been to Cambodia?  What is your favorite social good business?

Penh Lenh – Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Women are Gold T-Shirt from Penh Lenh

There is a saying here in Cambodia. “Boys are like gold and girls are like white cloth.” Meaning a brick of gold can get dirty and you can wipe it off and it still retains it value. Where white cloth, once stained is ruined. There are a few great NGOs here trying to change that mindset with the saying “women are gold”.   Penh Lenh, is one of those organizations.

I first heard about Penh Lenh, while exploring a pop-up shop during Beckie’s visit to Cambodia.  A few girls sitting next to use had on these beautiful necklaces and were talking about the work their friend was doing with female Khmer artisans.  I was instantly attracted to the mission and the beauty and quality of the mission.

Penh Lenh means “whole,” sets out to empower marginalized and at-risk women in Cambodia to pursue their life goals through quality education and sustaining employment.

Their products (like their “Women are gold” t-shirt I’m rocking above) are handcrafted in Phnom Penh, Cambodia by female artisans working to build new lives for themselves and their families. Each piece represents the strength and beauty of the women creating them and also the women wearing them.

100% of Penh Lenh’s product sales are reinvested in the social mission of Penh Lenh, to provide education, vocational training, and advanced career opportunities for their artisans.

From their  artisans to the community, they believe they can make a difference in Cambodia and around the world.

Today, Cambodia ranks as one of Southeast Asia’s poorest nations. For many Khmer people, making ends meet is more important than human dignity, which is why over 15,000 women in Phnom Penh alone work in drug or sex-related industries, often with the hope of being able to support their families.

The artisans of Penh Lenh strive to be messengers of equality in the workshop and throughout the community.  Penh Lenh seeks to combat these industries by taking their mission outside of their workshop and into the community through service projects and fun events.  Serving the marginalized and often abused women of the city gives Penh Lenh the chance to illustrate messages of kindness, peace, and hope where those things often lay dormant.

Penh Lenh is a family, and like family should, we look out for one another.  They are deeply committed to changing the world by starting from within.  Weekly, their team members are offered academic courses that cover an array of topics ranging from nutrition and physical wellness, to female empowerment, English classes, and professional & budgeting skills. It is their belief that from knowledge springs strength, and from strength springs reform.

All of their products are handcrafted in their workshop in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, by female artisans working to build healthy lives for themselves and their families.  They are committed to producing 100% ethically-sourced,
responsibly-made goods. They take their time to source only the highest quality materials ensuring their products are crafted using semi-precious gemstones, handmade gold-plated and gold-filled chains and clasps, and hand-sewn and locally sourced fabrics. By investing in high quality tools and clean, hygienic working conditions, Penh Lenh ensures that their shop is a place of joy and peace for both their artisans and customers.

At Penh Lenh, they believe in transparency; when you shop with them, you can be confident that every product they make contributes to a global movement for slow, sustainable fashion.

Have you ever been to Cambodia?  What social good businesses did you like?