It was on a buying trip to Cambodia that I arranged to visit the offices & craft centre of Craftworks Cambodia in Phnom Penh.
It is The Kingdom of Cambodia’s capital city & sits at the junction of the Mekong Tonlé Sap and Bassac rivers.
Founded in 1372, it was a hub for both the Khmer Empire and French colonialists.
Nowadays, it has opened itself up for inquisitive travellers to explore its walkable riverfront, parks, restaurants and bars
and the ornate Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and the fascinating National Museum.
At the city’s heart is the massive, art deco Central Market – a must visit!
With a population of just over 2 million people, Phnom Penh has grown to become the nation’s economic, industrial, and cultural centre.
It was a steaming-hot morning in February when I negotiated with a friendly, young tuk tuk driver stationed outside my hotel in downtown Phnom Penh, to take me to the offices of Craftworks Cambodia and meet the team.
My visit was a great opportunity to see first-hand many of their products and understand their business much better.
Truly a day to remember. Even if the heat was now starting to get to me!
Here`s what I learned….
A little about Craftworks Cambodia….
Set up by Mr. Sapbay, Craftworks Cambodia is an organisation working to provide vocational training, marketing skills and market access
for home-based producers through the sale of contemporary Cambodian arts and crafts.
About 50 artisans, who are mainly disabled people, victims of land mines or polio, benefit from this support.
It also maintains and practices a strong commitment to environmental awareness with many of the products being made from recycled and sustainable materials, such as cement sacks, fabrics & brass casings.
Craftworks Cambodia`s “Mission Statement” is….
“The marketing of products while developing new items to create work for disadvantaged workers with high levels of unemployment.
Relationships with the artisans will be nurtured in order to develop a platform for sound business principles whilst always maintaining the human focus in this creative endeavour.
The employment of fair trade principles will ensure that artisans and crafts people are paid a fee that is fair and equitable.”
Mr. Sapbay, the founder, says….
“Fair trade means that all of us can be paid a fair wage and have a better living.
When we get sick we have the money to go to the doctor and our children can go to school.
Together with other groups of producers here in Cambodia we get training and we all help to promote the fair trade principles.
At Craftworks the artisans also work from home so they are independent and can look after their kids.”
Put simply, the organisation seeks to provide equitable wages, a life of dignity, education for children and future stability for families and the wider community.
And the country and its people….
Today, Cambodia is a nation at peace, ruled by a multi-party democracy under a constitutional monarchy.
However, Cambodia and the Cambodian people have suffered for decades as a result of war.
It is still recovering from the atrocities of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970’s when nearly 2 million “enemies of the state” were executed in the infamous “killing fields”.
Sadly, about a third of Cambodia’s population still live below it`s national poverty level as a result of this historic turmoil.
However, there is hope….
Living in an underprivileged community approximately 30 minutes from the Kingdom`s capital city, Phnom Penh,
where work and resources are extremely limited, eight artisans make Fair Trade jewellery from recycled bombshells and bullets.
These artisans use bomb casings left over from Cambodia’s wartime three decades ago.
They are turning a past tragedy into unique symbols of their culture and perseverance.
These trained ironwork artisans skillfully hand-mold these bombshells into beautiful statement jewellery pieces.
With the support of Craftworks Cambodia, the artisans generate an income that will provide their families and their communities a better future.
The the artisans not only make a fair wage for their work they receive support for education and training.
Each piece purchased provides much needed wages, a life of dignity, education for their children and stability for families and communities.
Hand-crafted by Cambodian artisans, this highly polished brass bullet pendant is made from found bomb casings left over from previous conflicts.
Artisans also work with materials such as recycled paper, rubber tubing and hand-woven silk to produce unique and inspired products, garments and jewellery creating edgy and reworked designs.
The artisans take pride in their work and strive for beauty and quality.
A little more information about landmines…..
There is an estimated 2.7 million tons of landmines or unexploded devises in Cambodia after the notorious Khmer Rouge regime.
Unbelievably only 13% of dangerous land in the country has been cleared of war remnants, which means 87% (or 648km square of land) is still left to clear!
Thank you for reading my Blog post – Paul.
Have YOU ever been to Cambodia?
Do you have any stores to share in the comments section below?