I had an amazing trip to Cambodia in November where I was lucky enough to find these fabulous organisations, all using traditional crafts as a means of providing training and employment for people trapped by poverty, a legacy of the horrors under the Khmer Rouge.
If you do want to read more about my trip in general check out tinkerbelladventures; but frankly I hope you love these organisations as much as me.
I found the Mekong Quilts shop in Siem Reap and then later in Phnom Penh. Since I love handmade products and I had Christmas shopping to do, I had to visit. Mekong Quilts provides women in Cambodia with the opportunity to learn sewing skills and work as a community to create beautiful quilts to sell for which they receive a good income. Profits from the shops are reinvested in the enterprise and through the main charity Mekong Plus which also provides wider community development projects.
The quilts were a bargain in comparison to the cost of buying a handmade one in the UK and are beautiful, but I only bought a few small gifts.
Daughters of Cambodia provides women with training, education and employment, as well as wider social support such as counselling, medical care and life skills. It works to help women escaping from the sex industry, many of them having been forced into it through poverty.
The Daughters shop in Phnom Penh provides a great way to find out about the organisation and buy some fantastic gifts, everything from bags and t-shirts to jewellery and toys. They also sell products made by the ‘sister’ company Sons of Cambodia which through a similar model seeks to provide transexual males with a means to leave the sex industry too. As well as gifts for family and friends I got these unusual earrings for myself.
One of the first organisations I visited while in Siem Reap for a week, their demonstration site shows visitors the range of crafts and skills being taught to local unemployed people – from wood and stone carving (which is also helping the regeneration of the Angkor temple site) to silk painting, lacquering and silk weaving.
The crafts made are aimed at the high end luxury market. Frankly I couldn’t afford anything in their boutique shops (of which there is even one in the airport in Phnom Penh which is a fantastic showcase of Cambodian crafts), but the work is of an amazing quality.
I also got a lift to their silk workshops and learnt loads about the fascinating process of creating silk scarves and clothing, making it clear why they cost so much. The ‘raw’ rougher type of silk is taken from the outside of the cocoon with the finer silk coming from the inside of the cocoon.
The silk is dyed prior to it being spun, making the weaving process complex as the pattern already exists on the thread. It a beautifully intricate process. 1 metre of silk fabric generally takes 4 months from extracting the silk from the cocoons to weaving the end product.