It’s hard not to think about what people have been through as one walks around Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. Every Cambodian in their late 30s and above has lived through an incredibly dark time in their nation’s history. The Khmer Rouge, who were in power between 1975 and 1979, were responsible for the deaths of around a fifth of the population and although the genocide is now gone, it is certainly not forgotten.
Things are changing for the better though. Whilst Cambodia’s economy still lags behind other countries in its region, it has stabilised significantly; GDP is increasing and the poverty rate is falling.
That said, the marks of deprivation in Phnom Penh are not difficult to spot. Disabled beggars, dragging themselves along the busy, dusty pavements. Young children poised outside the main tourist attractions in the hopes of getting a few dollars from the visitors. Piles of rubbish, littering the sides of the streets and floating in the city’s main waterways, turning rivers into open sewers.
But another surprisingly common site in Phnom Penh is that of the multiple social enterprises which are playing a key role in transforming the country.
On our short stay there we found ourselves in a number of shops and restaurants that had been founded on the principles of providing training and employment to those who would otherwise not receive it. Their aim is not just to make money but to lift people out of the poverty and oppression in which they have been trapped.
Daughters of Cambodia, for example, works with those in the sex-trafficking industry; providing them with a new means of supporting themselves. Jars of Clay is a cafe which employs solely women and gives a tenth of its profits to poor families, widows and those with ongoing health issues.
Visiting Our Partners
The main focus for our visit was Rajana; a social enterprise we have worked closely with, selling their brass keyrings at a number of our events. Rajana trains and employs local artisans who hand-make all manner of jewellery, clothing, accessories and pottery. They believe not just in generating business but in rebuilding Cambodia’s economy, society and artistic heritage.
The beauty of the small, brass bell keyrings that Rajana make are that they are created from spent artillery shells; a very fitting way of showing Cambodia’s progression from a violent past to an ever-brighter future. Once weapons of war, they now help to build lives rather than take them.
Cambodia still has far to go and the scars that the Khmer Rouge left behind will take a long time to heal. But social enterprise, amongst forms of development, is helping bring about a positive transformation and provides, tourists especially, an opportunity to spend money in a responsible way.
Keyrings can be purchased by contacting our shop.