Cambodia Knits & COVID19

Welcome to week three of creative ways organizations are staying afloat in Cambodia in the midst of COVID. For previous weeks, check out Love Soap and Phnom Climb. This week I’d like to share how Cambodia Knits is using Patreon to keep their staff employed and busy.

Cambodia Knits’ Knitters

I’ll be honest, knitting isn’t something I gravitate towards, but I respect it. Who am I to judge my friend who knits in church, when I show up with my coloring book! I first fell in love with Cambodia Knits, when they launched Bong (Khmer for “older brother” or “older sister”) the Water Buffalo, a few friends who knew my love of water buffalos sent me messages about it. (It was a repeat of when everyone started sending me those mermaid tail blankets via Facebook a few years ago). From there I started learning more about Cambodia Knits, how they train and employ women, who can work from home to make beautifully crafted knitted products. When I started this little blog series, one of my friends reached out and told me I should write about Cambodia Knits and connected me with Monika, the Founder and Chief Knitter. Below is a quick video from Monika on how to support Cambodia Knits during COVID19.

Cambodia Knits (CK) is a social enterprise working with marginalized communities in and near Phnom Penh. Their goal is to produce beautiful, high quality, and unique hand-made products while providing fair and flexible employment opportunities. 

They believe women have the power to break the intergenerational cycles of poverty, contribute to their communities and change the world. Given economic opportunities, women invest their incomes into the health, education, and futures of their families. However, many women in Cambodia face constraints in finding and keeping paid employment. Cambodia Knits work within the constraints women face to provide fair, flexible employment and to support them to challenge those constraints. They focus on two things: producing fun, quirky handmade products, and providing fairly paid employment in Cambodia.

To date, Cambodia Knits has trained more than 200 individuals in basic and advanced knitting or crochet skills!

Once trained, all participants have the opportunity to produce Cambodia Knit products at piece rates. Knitters and crocheters are provided with all materials and receive a fair piece rate for what they produce. They regularly visit the communities to collect the products, pay producers, and provide support and additional training when necessary. Cambodia Knits believe that high-quality products can be made at home. This cuts out the need to travel the long distance into the city to find work and allows parents to stay home with their young children. It also means that people can work at their own pace and still earn a livable income.

Free the Bears partnership.

Another thing I absolutely love about Cambodia Knits is how involved they are in the Phnom Penh Community and regularly partner with other organizations / individuals on projects. Recently they partnered with Free the Bears, a local NGO that works with wildlife rescue and did a book about a scared little mole, Mole was Afraid.

When COVID hit, Cambodia Knits, sprung into action. Schools in Cambodia have been closed since early March since most Knitters work at home, they are able to keep an eye on their children, which is a huge blessing in a country full of factory workers. They launched a knitting kit (see video below) to teach more people how to knit. They also launched a Patreon page. Patreon is like GoFundMe, but to help artists. Patreons are basically investing in art and art creators, which these women definitely are. Right now the goal is to get 99 Patreons to support the Cambodia Knits and keep everyone working. Since shipping isn’t currently happening in Cambodia at the moment, they are gearing up for Christmas orders and working to grow partnerships with for wholesale orders. They are also reaching out to schools and businesses, to sell Cambodia Knits products as a fundraiser, where those making the sales keep a percentage of the funds raised. I’m definitely going to place an order for Bong and some buddies for him. I hope you’ll consider being generous as well, in prayer, encouragement, and Patreon-age.

Want to learn how to crochet in Khmer?

Interested in becoming a Patreon of Cambodia Knits? Check out their Patreon Page! Interested in learning more about how your school / organization can make money by selling Cambodia Knits products? Or interested in placing a whole sale order? Let me know and I can connect you to Monika, Cambodia Knits’ Founder and Chief Knitter.

Phnom Climb Community Gym and COVID19

It’s hard to believe that three weeks ago, Bullet and I were sitting on the floor in the empty Narita International Airport. We were in the first part of our journey back to the USA, Bullet was required to be in his crate for our entire 11 hour layover and I was grieving leaving my home, life, and friends and wondering for the hundredth time if I was making the right decision. When my phone started blowing up, Cambodia’s Prime Minister announced that Khmer New Year was going to be postponed. (This would be like if our President announced that Christmas would be canceled). It was a gut punch. I found myself writing in my journal, “How can I continue to serve Cambodia during this time?”

I’ve been pondering this question for the last couple of weeks and I keep finding myself being drawn back to generosity. When times get tough, people clutch to stability. I know I do. Yet if anything COVID19 is showing us how the human spirit is one of generosity. The more I think about it the more I think that God wove it into our being for moments in history like this one. We are a reflection of who God is and Jesus always seemed like a very generous guy to me. Investing His time, talent, and treasures into anyone who needed it. So I’m hoping to post stories of what my friends are doing in Cambodia in the midst of COVID19 and invite you to be generous – in prayer, provision, and encouragement. Last week, I shared what my NGO, M’lup Russey is doing and the opportunity to get involved with LOVE SOAP. And this week, I want to share about Phnom Climb Community Gym.

Running Bongs at Phnom Climb Community Gym.

I first fell in love with Phnom Climb Community Gym, when Bullet and I started doing Running Bongs, a local running club. We met weekly at Phnom Climb Community Gym. After a few weeks, the young, Khmer staff got used to having a big dog show up weekly for runs. I slowly got to know the owners, Mary and Christoph, and found out that we had a lot of things in common – we go to the same church, enjoy discussing website data, have a passion for making a difference in the community, and love sports. When I broke my leg, Mary and Christoph were a huge part of my support team. They made meals, checked in, walked Bullet, prayed for my constantly. Their son, Theo, was always asking about my “owie” and if he could come over and color and play with Bullet. They are the embodiment of Christ’s commitment to community and generosity.

Theo walking Bullet around Phnom Community Climbing Gym.

Mary and Christoph have lived in Cambodia for a decade. A few years ago, they saw an opportunity to launch Cambodia’s first climbing gym. Instead of launching a business to make money, they started the gym as a social business with two main objectives: (1) create and maintain an inclusive community of Cambodian and expat climbers in Phnom Penh; and (2) support organizations that work with disadvantaged children and young adults by offering them access to the gym to develop their self-esteem, trust, physical endurance, and mental fortitude through climbing. In a country where trust is lacking, Phnom Climb Community Gym is a place where trust is flourishing.

It’s been three weeks since the Cambodian Government shut down all gyms. Right now Phnom Climb Community Gym currently employs 10 staff members whose salaries go to support their families and their education. Mary and Christoph are committed to continuing to employ their amazing staff (also known as Bullet’s fan club). They are the core of what and who Phnom Climb Community Gym is. We don’t know what the future holds, but I’m confident Phnom Climb Community Gym will weather this storm. They still need help covering the costs of staff salaries, rent, and utilities while the gym is closed. Please consider being generous – in prayer, provision, and encouragement and check out Phnom Climb Community Gym’s GoFundMe page.

Mary and Christoph have created such a special place. Where you can show up as a tourist, backpacker, expat, or just a kid, and just have fun in a clean, safe environment. The space is open for running clubs, birthday parties, and other special events. There are always big smiles, high fives, and hugs. They want every visitor to have an exceptional, memorable experience. They believe that climbing is a sport that fosters teamwork, trust, community,  perseverance, and physical health, helping individuals to grow in their confidence and teams to collaborate better together. They even helped launch the first Cambodian National Climbing Team!

Need more proof Phnom Climb Community Gym is changing the fabric of Phnom Penh? Phnom Climb Community Gym partners with local NGOs to get more young Khmer kids climbing. One funny cultural “challenge” is talking about climbing considering that climbing is such a new sport in Cambodia that it doesn’t really have a proper name. (“Phnom” in Khmer actually means “mountain” – but there is no word for “hill” so a large boulder I ride on my motorcycle and Mt. Everest have the same name). It is normally translated as “going up a mountain” and climbing in a gym is simply “going up a wall”. This cultural gap made the children imagine that climbing was a foreign thing, like running for fun, eating bread, and wearing shoes indoors. In order to explain it, they had to see it by themselves. But as soon as they come to the gym their confusion turns into amazement. When they first arrive and see the shining holds and colorful walls their amazement turns to admiration when they see that the place was run entirely by Cambodian young adults from that grew up climbing mango and cashew trees just like them. This isn’t a foreign activity, this was for everyone.

Climbing isn’t just about kids’ physical development. Yes, they are getting stronger and are in good condition. But they also learn things about working together, helping each other, and looking out for each other. They have to work together, be considerate, and pay attention to each other, especially when they are safeguarding/belaying each other. During climbing they also learn about how they can solve problems, first to think and then to do something and to be flexible if something does not work out as they thought before. They also learn not to give up when it doesn’t work immediately but rather try again and again until it works out. So they are learning a lot about themselves and are getting more life skills, which will be useful in their future.

Help keep Phnom Climb Community Gym around for future climbers by checking out Phnom Climb Community Gym’s GoFundMe page.

Dorsu – Kampot, Cambodia

Dorsu in Kampot, Cambodia.

Another great thing about going to Kampot a few weeks ago, was checking out Dorsu.  A local company that makes some of the most ethical clothing here in Cambodia.  Their name has come up a few times in various conversations so I was glad when the Prayer Circle team was grabbing breakfast next door to Dorsu and they were open!

Founded through a Cambodian-Australian friendship, Dorsu has grown from a two- person concept in 2008 into a thriving company employing over 25 people in 2018.  With a diverse team hailing from Cambodia, Australia, England and Philippines, the skilled and experienced Dorsu crew are proud to offer the unique opportunity of knowing the people who make clothes.

Dorsu believes that fair and safe employment is the responsibility of every company.  They offer all their staff:

  • A 9-hour workday that includes a 1-hour lunch and two 15 minute breaks.
  • Entry-level wages that exceed the Cambodian garment industry’s legal minimum by 30%.
  • Monthly performance-based bonuses.
  • A 5-day work week. (Cambodia typically has a 6-day work week), with an optional 6th day at overtime rates.
  • Accrued annual leave plus paid national holidays.
  • Illness & personal leave, as well as maternity and paternity leave.
  • Annual review of permanent contracts.
  • Required on-the-job safety training and equipment maintenance.
  • All staff are provided with protective shoes and clothing.
  • Each team member is given a bicycle and/or a motorcycle helmet upon employment.  One of the most significant safety issues connected to garment factories in Cambodia is the transportation of worker crowded, open-air trucks on dangerous roads with no enforced traffic laws.
  • Strict fire, equipment & safety policies are upheld in an open plan studio.
  • All management staff are trained and equipped to deal with safety hazards and incidents, staff grievances, gross or serious misconduct.

Dorsu financially supports Chumkriel Language School (CLS), a Cambodian operated organisation that provides education to the local Kampot community. CLS offers English classes, computer workshops, agricultural programs and creative arts activities to students, as well as a public library, additional lessons to support students with Cambodian State School classes and parent inclusion programs to encourage community-wide participation. Dorsu believes in their approach to education and choose to support their efforts in providing inclusive, quality education to the Kampot community.

Cambodia is one of the largest producers of clothing globally, employing over 700,000 workers and accounting for approximately 80% of the country’s total export revenue. Garment workers are subject to harsh and often dangerous working conditions, with long working hours, low pay and unsafe transport to and from factories. Through running a safe, fair and supportive garment production space, Dorsu offers workers an alternative, to learn and grow in an environment that supports them as individuals and as skilled workers.

Dorsu provides skills development and training to all staff members, creating opportunities for growth both within Dorsu and beyond. A significant barrier to skills development in Kampot is the need to be apart from families, forfeiting an income to complete training. Onsite training, support and professional development opportunities help workers to develop their skills while earning an income and being able to support their families. With highly experienced and skilled workers in a community, employment and living standards increase, with education becoming a priority for future generations.

Dorsu’s in house factory.

Through running a local production space Cambodia, Dorsu is contributing significantly to the growing awareness and recognition of the negative impacts the garment industry has on workers, their families and communities. Providing an alternative helps workers to seek better conditions, demanding the protection of their rights and paving the way for large-scale industry change.  With two retail stores and an expanding presence in the Cambodian market, consumers, both local and foreign, can see the positive effects of producing and buying locally made products, that are in full support of workers safety and livelihoods.

My Dorsu tank top.

Produced in-house start to finish, Dorsu versatile designs are carefully crafted in soft, breathable cotton jersey.  They don’t conform to the conventional fast-fashion calendar that’s influenced by temporary trends.  Dorsu uses fabric is remnant cotton jersey sourced from independent suppliers in Phnom Penh.  Remnant fabric (also known as “deadstock” or “surplus”) is unused and unwanted leftover rolls of cloth in its original condition.  As a result of Cambodia’s pervasive garment manufacturing industry and issues that occur along the fashion industry’s incredibly complex supply chain, vast amounts of fabric are deemed unusable by brands on a daily basis. This waste arises due to reasons such as incorrect or oversupply of cloth, last minute changes in production schedules and the ever-increasing need for brands to be immediately responsive and adaptive to fashion trends.  These fabric leftovers are sold on from brands and factories to a local fabric supply industry, who then sell on through the Cambodian supply chain. Dorsu scour the warehouses of preferred suppliers and purchase rolls of fabric per kilogram. When sourcing for collections, they buy up to 100 kilograms of a collection colour (like burgundy) and up to 300 kilograms of a core colour (like black and navy).  Due to the nature of sourcing factory remnants, they can’t guarantee consistency in the fabric blends. Consequently, they burn-test every fabric they buy to ensure it has very little or no synthetic fibres.  Then they pre-wash a sample of every new fabric, testing for color fastness and shrinkage.  They know that using factory remnants has limitations. You can’t trace the true origins of the material. Cambodia doesn’t have cotton mills or weaving facilities so, there are limits by access. As a small brand, Dorsu experiences financial barriers of meeting minimum order quantities of suppliers outside of Cambodia and then importing fabric into the country.

Ever been to Dorsu?  Or Kampot, Cambodia?  What did you think?

Epic Arts Cafe – Kampot, Cambodia

Last weekend, I found myself in Kampot helping out at a Motocross Enduro Race (more on that soon).  Between arriving in Kampot after an amazing three hour ride and getting the practice races up and running, my friend, Stefanie and I managed to grab breakfast at Epic Arts Cafe.

Stef at Epic Arts Cafe

Epic Arts Cafe is a social enterprise established in 2006. Epic Arts Café is a model for an inclusive working environment serving travellers, expats and locals alike.  It’s part of a larger organization called Epic Arts, an international, inclusive arts organization based in Cambodia and registered as a charity in the United Kingdom.  They use the arts as a form of expression and empowerment to bring people with and without disabilities together. They aim to promote the message that every person counts through their inclusive education, community and social enterprise programmes.

Stef and I waiting for breakfast to come!

Epic Arts believes that every person counts and that everyone should be valued and seen as a creative individual with a voice. In the future, Epic Arts wishes to be at the forefront of inclusive arts in Cambodia and the South East Asian region as well as an important voice in the wider development of inclusive arts worldwide. Over the next 10 Years Epic Arts wants to achieve success in all areas if its work by focusing on four key goals;

  • Spread the message that every person counts.
  • Be sustainable in all areas within the organization.
  • Raise our profile as a leading international inclusive arts organization.
  • Ensure high quality and best practice in all areas of their work.

Cafe view

The aim is to fund Epic Arts in a sustainable way. Every year their target is to generate 60% of their budget through social enterprise projects.  In 2006, they opened our first social enterprise, Epic Arts Café, to increase work opportunities for people with disabilities in Kampot and to generate funds for their Inclusive Arts projects.  The café is a welcoming place to enjoy yummy food and drink in a positive environment.  Stef and I had an amazing breakfast, coffee and checked out the shop they have on the second floor of the building.  Since I rode my motorcycle to Kampot, I was worried about carrying extra weight but Stef treated me to a metal straw and cute carrying bag.  (Plastic in Cambodia is completely out of control.  I’m excited to put this bad boy to good use here in Cambodia and plan on keeping it in my backpack from now on.)

Sustainable Metal Straw

The coolest thing about the cafe is that most of the staff is deaf so they needed a way to easily communicate with customers and created a great solution – a tick sheet form – an ordering system designed to be inclusive, complete with English, Khmer and icons.  They also have a selection of basic Cambodian Sign Language (DDP) throughout their menus for customers to try out with staff.

Khmer Sign Language

Epic Arts holds the value that every person counts and should be accepted and treated equally at the core of its work. The organization is founded on and continuously guided by the Christian faith but does is not seek to proselytize or impose its religious beliefs on others. They respect the religious beliefs and practices in countries where they work. The work is open to all people regardless of faith or personal beliefs, disability, ethnicity, intellect, gender, sexuality, nationality or background.

Have you ever been to a deaf cafe before?  What did you think of the experience?

Villageworks – Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Welcome new followers!  I added a lot of new followers with my post on Facebook.  I try to showcase a social good business in Cambodia on my website / email list every month.

I first learned about VillageWorks from my friends at NOMI Network and now every time I see their shop I smile.  I have been lucky to be invited to the VillageWorks location in Phnom Penh, where a large group of the polio survivors work.  VillageWorks is more than handicrafts. The essence is really building the lives of the villagers. Behind every piece of work, you get the whole person and his or her family.  Supporters are invited to join them and be engage in building lives. That support helps the villagers break free from their poverty cycle, and find hope in life.

VillageWorks Songkhem was conceived by a missionary from Cambodia Methodist Services for the purpose of creating employment, providing skills and livelihood to women and young people in a small village in Baray district of Kampong Thom province Cambodia from 1997 to 2001 and name it Songkhem.

In 2001, VillageWorks officially opened by the Girls’ Brigade Singapore and continue supporting the project to 2006. With their support Villageworks Songkhem has touched many lives and contributed to society and to the nation.  Villageworks Songkhem became locally operated by Cambodian staff from 2006.

In 2008, VillageWorks Songkhem Co., Ltd was registered with Ministry of Commerce of Cambodia and became a provisional member of World Fair Trade Organization member in 2011.

VillageWorks vision is to bring hope to the villagers and to nurture their self-worth as persons and to help them realize their potential and purpose in life. Their strategy is to organize, equip and inspire the villagers to produce quality handicraft work for the global marketplace.  VillageWorks is more than making handicraft products and allowing the villagers to buy food for themselves and their families. VillageWorks is about restoring human spirit in small villages and bringing meaning of life to them. It is about empowering people to stand tall on their own.

Their workers in the villages are called “Shining Eyes” because each worker makes the product with passion, pride and enthusiasm. They know that someone outside of the villages cares, supports and believes in them. As part of the VillageWorks team, their workers want our buyers to be excited when they see the products. They take great pride to show their work to the world.

They believe in the dignity and worth of every person in the villages. They work and live a meaningful life to become the people they can be.  Each piece of work has its own unique fingerprint of personality and potential. No two pieces are alike. No piece is perfectly identical because no two of us are the same.

And they have dreams….BIG dreams for the people and the handicrafts. Every day we take a small step and make it a reality. Their focus and direction gives their people renewed energy and purpose.

Every cent earned goes to the villagers. VillageWorks is committed to helping every person in the village find meaningful work and become all they can be. They also want you to join and become part of this worthy moment.

VillageWorks cannot do this alone. They need your support to continue to make an even greater impact. You can touch a life and make a difference in another person’s life by taking these actions today.

  1. Make a purchase.
  2. Pledge financial support.
  3. Be a volunteer helper.
  4. Join them in prayer.

This is one of the many awesome social businesses in Cambodia.  Do you know another one?

Animal-Mama – Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Animal-Mama has such a special place in my heart.  First of all, Bullet loves staying there for boarding.  It is the only place I considered leaving him during my two week trip home to the States this summer for my brother’s wedding.  Animal-Mama is a passion project that aims to provide unique, holistic, healthy, affordable and personalized pet services to animal lovers in Cambodia. As Veterinary Hospital & Animal Welfare Center it offer medical veterinary services, pet boarding, animal daycare, socialization, hydrotherapy, doggy pool & homemade holistic food and treats. Founded by the animal lover, long-time animal welfare activist and a businesswoman, Yulia Khouri, the proceeds from this project fund the on-going rescue/adoptions/health services for the street animals as well as the country-wide education about animal welfare to public.

Bullet hanging out with Animal-Mama Therapy Humans – aka friends from church!

As a social enterprise, the profits from this business are used to help street animals who are in dire situations because of sickness and injury. As well as the country-wide education about animal welfare to the public, our community projects focus on Spay/Neuter Programs, Street Rescues & Adoptions, and Long-Term Special Needs Care.

Animal-Mama is NOT a donation based NGO, they don’t have regular funding to help all the street and pagoda animals who need it.  Animal-Mama is also NOT a public animal shelter, which means with their current capacity they can only take a small number of animals at any one time.
There is only so much Animal-Mama can do on their own, so they  encourage participation, donations, and sponsorships from individuals and organizations who want to get involved and help the animals in Cambodia.  Here are some examples:
    1. There are fifty Pagodas in Central Phnom Penh, each with approximately forty cats and dogs. Most of these animals are abandoned and homeless, and live as best they can with rice and scraps given by the monks and local residents. They suffer from terrible illness and injury and are constantly breeding which adds to the Pagoda Problem.
    2. Almost every day, sick and injured street animals are brought to Animal Mama.  Many of these come from the Street Meat Markets.  (Yes, they eat dog here in Cambodia).  They use the profits from their Social Enterprise to pay for their treatments and care, but Animal-Mama can’t cover the costs of all the animals who need help on their own.
    3. Cambodia has one of the highest reported fatalities of the Rabies disease in Asia, second only to Myanmar. Capture, Neuter, Vaccinate and Release (CNVR) programs are effective in eliminating rabies, so Animal-Mama goes out into the community to vaccinate the cats and dogs. They microchip them and store the data on the PassPet database.
    4. Home of Heroes is the first retirement home in the world for de-mining dogs who have become too old to work in the field.  These dogs are some of Bullet’s closest friends in Cambodia!  The center will also take in the young dogs who don’t pass the very rigorous training.  These Belgian Malinoise dogs have given the greatest service to humanity and Animal-Mama believes that they deserve the very best we can give them in return.  The dogs are deployed to countries all around the world and have cleared thousands of acres of land sniffing out land mines, improvised explosive devices, and un-exploded ordinance like the awful cluster bombs that have remained buried for decades.  In the past, the dogs would be euthanized when they became too old to work the long and demanding hours out in the field. The younger dogs who didn’t pass the training would be given away and they would often meet a gruesome end. But not any more! Animal Mama and Home of Heroes have signed MOU’s with both the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) to make sure every dog is saved.

Recently, Bullet has had a little bit of a health scare, including an eye infection and an insect bite to the face.  So far we have visited Animal-Mama three times to make sure he is getting the best care and recovery.  The amount of care and love they have shown Bullet and me and been such a great experience.  They take the time to check him out throughly, ask clear questions and calmly explain what course of action and things to look for specific to Cambodia.  It’s great to know that part of Bullet’s care is going to support all these other programs as well as his friends who live at the House of the Heroes.  (Also, Bullet gets to stay at the House of the Heroes when he stays at Animal-Mama, he’s such a lucky boy!)

Know another great animal support program in Cambodia?  Or anywhere else in the world?

byTavi – Phnom Penh, Cambodia

When I moved to Cambodia, I brought my entire Nike leggings collection, because that is what I used to wear to work almost every day, it’s 90% of my clothing collection and it’s what I would wear if I was moving to a tropical place – like Cambodia.

Unfortunately for me, leggings aren’t consider work appropriate so I’ve been hustling to find ethically sourced, professional looking pants that I can rock to work and still keep as cool as possible.  That is how I found byTavi!  Not only are they cute and ethically sourced – they have POCKETS!  Be still my heart.

My byTavi pants and a HUGE jackfruit!

Here is a little bit of information about byTavi.

When Tavi came to Center for Global Initiative (CGI – a NGO based in Cambodia)  in 2008, she found herself in a desperate situation. Her husband had recently passed away and she was the sole caregiver of her two young children and a relative. Struggling with her health, she was weak and had no resources to sufficiently care for herself, let alone her family. Surrounded by poverty and struggling to make ends meet, she sought a solution.

She approached CGI and requested a sewing machine and seamstress training. Three short years after she began sewing pillow covers, she had inspired over thirty other women in her community to join a sewing team, whose products were to be labeled byTavi.

Today, the byTavi Workshop serves as much more than a vocational training project.

Beyond seamstress training, byTavi desire each woman to realize and reach her full potential.  What started as four women sewing pillow cases, is now over 40 women sewing a full line of handbags and clothing. In partnership with their designer, the byTavi team has learned to take a sketch and bring it to life. They take pride in knowing that the byTavi line is a product of their workmanship.

  • FAIR TRADE

    The workshop operates under fair trade principles, respecting the dignity and health of every employee.

    • HEALTH & WELLNESS

      In addition, daily lunch is provided by CGI and regular health checks are available, including special attention for expecting mothers.

    • SPIRITUAL FORMATION

      Every Wednesday, the sewing machines come to a halt as an opportunity is provided for Bible study and worship.

      Know another social good business in Cambodia (or anywhere in the world)?  Especially those that come with POCKETS!  Leave a comment below!

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?

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?