After a full 36 hours living and learning in the Knapor community, we headed back to Siem Reap to dive headfirst into the social enterprise scene.
Over the last few decades Cambodia has been fostering an inspiring community of entrepreneurial minds that care deeply about the future of their country. In valiant attempts to pull the country as far away from its tragic and recent history as possible, organisations have sprung up to help war veterans, the elderly, young people left orphaned and rural communities in desperate need, in increasingly new and innovative ways.
In Siem Reap, where millions flock each year to visit the majestic Angkor Complex, projects have evolved around tourism.
Let us introduce you to just a handful of these organisations:
Probably the most fun, and indeed innovative, organisation on this list is the incredible Phare Circus School. Phare trains the most disadvantaged youth in Cambodia in performance art and gives them to opportunity to use their skills to tell Cambodian stories to international audiences in Cambodia and across the world.
Our team were lucky enough to catch the Sokha show in the big top tent in Siem Reap and we were completely blown away. Sokha tells the story of the origins of Phare which was formed as a way of combatting the continued negative impacts of the Khmer Rouge. With their circus school, Phare hoped to provide poor and orphaned youth with skills and jobs at the same time as providing a stage from which to tell the devastating stories of Cambodia. Through performance, they find solace and educates others in a way that is uniquely entertaining.
The show was as moving as it was funny and we all left with tears in our eyes and huge grins on our faces. This is a must-see in Cambodia.
Friends International is one of the most successful social enterprises in Cambodia and now has branches all over the country. Just one of their projects is training young Cambodians in hospitality and their restaurants are some of the top rated in their respective cities. The dinner we enjoyed at their Maroum restaurant was one of the best meals we ate in Cambodia!
Friends International work closely with the organisation ChildSafe and are helping to educate locals and tourists alike in how they can play a part in keeping children safe in Cambodia.
Most restaurants also have a gift shop on site that sells crafts made by the mothers of their students. This family approach to development is vital to Friends’ success, as taking young people away from their families and, significantly, the family business can cause undue pressure on the family.
Bayon Pastry School
On the morning of our second day in Siem Reap we headed straight to the Bayon Cafe for breakfast. We gorged on freshly baked cakes and biscuits and fueled up on coffee, soaking in the relaxed atmosphere of this colourful space. But, of course, this isn’t any old cafe but a pastry training school for young Cambodian girls. The school and girls’ accommodation is onsite and we had the chance to sit down in one of the classrooms for a chat with the program director, Claire.
The Bayon Education and Development organisation has been active for over 15 years in the Angkor area and began by offering free primary schooling for students in the rural villages around the Angkor Complex. In 2014 they set up the pastry school to provide training to older youth who were desperate for skilled work in the city.
Our fourth and final social enterprise in Siem Reap was another famous eatery, which we were all too happy to indulge in. In turns out that this trip, inspired by education and service learning, was also an education for us in the culinary highlights of Cambodia!
Spoons is a beautiful restaurant set up by the EGBOK organisation who have been providing hospitality training, jobs and financial support to youth around Siem Reap since 2009. The organisation is proud to have 200 alumni employed in hospitality jobs throughout the country and their restaurant is a natural extension of their hands-on approach to training.
The food at Spoons is inspired by Cambodian street food and home-cooked classics and many of the recipes have been created by the students themselves. The menu we were served was as beautiful as it was delicious; it was the perfect end to a wonderful weekend of new experiences and learning.
So, what is the lesson in all this? Visit Siem Reap? Absolutely!
But, more importantly, we hope to inspire you to go out and find the organisations working in your own community and to find a way to educate your students on more socially responsible business models.