Siem Reap in Northwest Cambodia is the gateway to the world-famous temples of Angkor. With over one million tourists visiting the temples each year, tourism is one of the most important sectors of the Cambodian economy.
The country is still recovering from the devastating impact of Pol Pot’s reign in the 1970s where an estimated 1.5 million Cambodians (around 25% of the population) died due to starvation, execution, disease or overwork and millions more were displaced.
Officially, Cambodia has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world at 0.5% in 2015. However, this figure is misleading as most people are employed in the informal sector with wages often unregistered, unregulated and low paid. Many people live below or dangerously close to the poverty line.
A growing number of social enterprises seek to address this by providing training and employment. Some of those worth checking out include…
FOOD & DRINK
Delicious food, great coffee and a beautiful space. Sister Srey, which literally means Sister Sister (Srey is Khmer for sister) is based in the centre of Siem Reap close to the river and the market. The social enterprise café was founded in 2012 by two sisters from Melbourne with the aim of providing young Cambodians with training and employment opportunities.
90% of waste is composted or recycled and 20% of cafe profits, as well as donations, go towards the Hearts to Harmony Foundation to support the local community. Sister Srey staff also volunteer at local community projects.
And if you have dietary requirements this is the ideal place to go in Siem Reap as the menu is clearly labelled, including options for vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free!
Bloom (previously Blossom Café) is a non-profit training café which empowers and skills Cambodian women. Bloom has a range of beautiful cakes (including gluten-free options!), delicious coffee and free wifi.
Bloom Siem Reap opened in 2013 following the success of its sister café in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh. Australians Ruth and Murray Larwill founded Bloom Phnom Penh in 2010 and decided to expand to Siem Reap to create more opportunities for local Khmer people.
Named after the Moringa, or ‘Tree of life’, Marum is a social enterprise training restaurant. It’s part of the TREE alliance – a global alliance of training restaurants that work with NGO partners to provide training and established high quality standards of practice to beneficiaries. All profits from TREE restaurants are invested in the students who train there and the social programs which support them.
Highly rated on TripAdvisor, Marum is set in a wooden house in a spacious garden and serves a menu of creative local cuisine, including silk worms, red ants and crickets (the “red ant beef” in particular gets a few mentions in Tripadvisor reviews for being “delicious”!).
Genevieve’s is a popular Khmer/Western restaurant located close to Pub Street and the Old Market. Established in 2013 by Australian owner/manager Phil, Genevieve’s employs local people, many from disadvantaged backgrounds. It also donates 30% of its profits to local charities that encourage community development and empower Khmer children and their families.
Cambolac is social enterprise that aims to alleviate poverty by empowering poor local communities to earn an income through producing local handicrafts. Founded in 2010 by Frenchman Philippe Pauly the retail shop is also where art workshops are held for young people and people with disabilities from the local community. The range of products is beautiful and include lacquerware (a long tradition in Cambodia) and other artwork.
Genevieve’s Fair Trade Village (GFTV) is a social enterprise that supports artisans and craftspeople with disabilities to earn an income through selling authentic Cambodian handcrafted products. It operates on a co-operative model where producers set their own prices and receive 90% of the sale price, with the remaining portion being used to employ staff. GFTV only hires people with disabilities.
GFTV opened in November 2015 with start-up capital and ongoing support from Genevieve’s Restaurant (see above).
When browsing the clothes shops, keep your eyes peeled for clothing with the Tonlé label. It is a social enterprise zero-waste fashion brand founded by American designer Rachel Faller. Tonlé uses material scraps to create stylish products and reuses all its own scraps. The online store ships internationally with production based in Cambodia where it employs local women and pays them a fair wage. Each Tonlé product has a label signed by the person who made it.
Read more in this Huffington Post article.
A must see in Siem Reap, Phare Circus is a social enterprise that supports education and professional arts training for young Cambodians. Phare artists are graduates of Phare Ponleu Selpak(PPSA), an NGO school and professional arts training center in Battambang, Cambodia.
Almost 75% of Phare Circus’s profits go directly to PPSA to support more young people with education and training.
The White Bicycles is a non-profit charity providing over 50 rental bicycles to 9 hotels and guesthouses in Siem Reap. Proceeds from bicycle rentals support clean water, educational and other projects.
Seeing Hands Massage
Seeing Hands trains blind people in massage so that they can earn an income. The Lonely Planet warns to watch out for copycats that exploit blind people!
SOME HELPFUL TIPS
“Connecting Communities, Environment & Responsible Tourism” is a not-for-profit social enterprise based in Siem Reap. Its mission is to turn people’s good intentions into the best possible help for the most vulnerable people in Cambodia.
Some of its advice includes:
- Think twice before buying souvenirs from children, especially if it’s late in the evening.
- Don’t give money directly to begging children. If you wish to help, find out which projects are working to improve the lives of children on the streets and give your money to those.
- Shop at locally owned businesses – buy local goods and products.
- Conserve water—there is an ever increasing demand in Siem Reap.
- Play your part in the government’s attempts to reduce litter – dispose of your litter carefully (A simple way to combine the above is to use refillable water bottles).