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 Friends-International, Cambodia.
I had a meeting with Rathanak SOK, their Sales Officer, who greeted me with a warm smile and cooling drink.
Surrounded by happy local children playing in the courtyard, we proceeded to tour the workshops, meeting various artisans along the way. Stitching, cutting, measuring and sewing, it was a hive of activity and I was fascinated.
Rathanak explained the principles of Friends-International, their history and vision for the future.
He pointed out that 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 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.
Friends-International 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.
Before it officially opened for the day, we looked around their on-site shop – called Friends `N` Stuff.
I had a private viewing of hundreds of beautifully handmade Cambodian products. It is for moments like this that I became a Fair Trader!
Spending my US dollars in the shop – and carefully choosing small, light products – I was able to purchase plenty of gifts to bring back to the UK and offer my own customers.
They include many using recycled materials, such as magazine paper, food packaging, newspapers and even cutlery!
My visit was complete. I had been moved by the great work Friends-International do here in Cambodia and had seen first-hand how many of their products are made.
It was an fabulous to meet the artisans and see their amazing skills in action, always remembering the statement Rathanak told me – “unique products handmade by parents so their children can go to school”.
All very humbling for this particular Englishman.
Truly a day to remember. Even if the heat was now starting to get to me.
Time for a bite to eat in Romdeng Restaurant – one of Friends-International`s training restaurants for marginalised youth.
Now, where is my tuk tuk driver?
“Many thanks for reading this Blog post.
Have YOU ever been to Cambodia? Do you have any stories or experiences to share? If so, use the Comments section below” – Paul