Mother Teresa once said, “It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”
During our stay in Siem Reap, we came across a number of organisations who work for the betterment of the locals of Siem Reap. These organisations are involved in helping the community in various different ways. There are organisations that are working towards building schools, hiring the right teachers and getting proper books for the pupils. There are organisations which are helping the youth of the nation in accessing/recognising/developing their talent and skills. There are organisations that are helping people get out of prostitution, child trafficking and drug abuse. In Siem Reap alone, there are over 300 of these organisations supposedly making the life of the common Cambodian better.
Years of war has led to Cambodia ranking 137 on the Human Development Index. The war resulted in some 360 000 refugees and 1 800 000 landless and internally displaced persons. Even today, the risk of land mines continues to plague the country, and that’s not the only difficult that people are facing. About 4 million people (approximately 40 per cent of the population) live below the poverty line. Issues include lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor health services, and these are most felt in the rural areas, although that’s not to say that the issues don’t exist in urban society.
We came across three restaurants/cafés in Siem Reap that are helping the Cambodians in what I believe, is the ‘Right Way.’ They are helping the people by not just giving away money (most glorified mode of charity) and not knowing where it’s going; they are helping the locals take a stand for themselves and work their way through life. They are making the people learn how to be independent. They are educating the locals. This post is an exclusive interview with the masterminds behind these organisations.
Genevive’s Restaurant at Sok San Street; overseen by Phil Rogers (61), from Australia
Phil has been in Cambodia for the past two and a half years. He first visited Cambodia in 2010 with his daughter to see the temples (Angkor Complex) and he was back in 2012 after quitting his job. He volunteered and taught English for a year and then opened a restaurant with a Cambodian lady in April 2013. Today, Genevive’s has 16 staff members and is the number 2 rated restaurant in Siem Reap as per TripAdvisor.
How They Help
Genevive’s pays their staff a 10% of the monthly profit along with their monthly wage. 10% of their profits also go to the local community; the money that’s donated helps run a community garden, breakfast programme for a school, fund a teacher at another school and provide for a needy family in a poor area of Siem Reap. Once a month they also do a fundraiser where all the profits for that night and the staff tips for that night (the staff are very happy to be part of this) go to a needy cause. Phil mentions “This month, Genevive’s gave $635 to a family whose father/husband had recently died. This enabled the children to keep attending school as well as giving them supplies.”
They also provide a friendly, supportive and professional environment for their staff, which ensures that all employees come comes to work knowing that people will support and listen to them in times of distress.
Know more about Genevive’s by clicking here.
HAVEN Training Restaurant at Sok San Street; overseen by Sara (38) and Paul (46) Wallimann, from Switzerland
Sara and Paul were travellers like us and had been coming to Cambodia since 2008. During their stays in the country, they were involved in fundraising activities and teaching the underprivileged. After spending some time raising awareness and gathering funds in 2010 in Switzerland and after a year’s hard work in Siem Reap, they inaugurated HAVEN in December 2011. HAVEN is run by the founders and 14 wonderful staff. Today, it is the number one restaurant in Siem Reap as per TripAdvisor.
How They Help
Haven provides a platform to the disadvantaged young adults of Cambodia to learn quality work skills and important lessons in life. Sara mentions “Haven aims to ensure that their staff becomes independent, work their way out of poverty, earn their own money, go back to school/university and also realise that they are capable of making their lives better without depending upon any sponsor or organisation.”
HAVEN teaches their trainees English and the use of computers. The organisation aims to empower their staff and give them the knowledge and confidence they need to create a safe and independent future for themselves and generations to come.
HAVEN provides a 12-month training to vulnerable young adults from orphanages and safe shelters, as well as underprivileged young adults from very rural poor areas. This training programme is based on the SWISS apprenticeship system (know more). This training is free of charge and in addition to the training, HAVEN takes care of the staff’s lodging, food and clothes. They also provide their trainees with a monthly salary to cater to their personal needs.
Know more about HAVEN by clicking here.
New Leaf Book Cafe’ – Group 10, Phum Mondul 1, Svay Dungkum, 306 Street 9; overseen by Ian Croft (39) from England
Ian has been in Cambodia for nearly two years. He came to the country in 2013 as a volunteer. He always wanted to do some charitable work and took 18 months off from his career in order to do so. After volunteering for three weeks in Siem Reap, Ian along with his business partner Georgina opened the café in July 2013. He also never made it back to his career in banking. Today, New Leaf Book Cafe’ is the number 14 restaurant/cafe in Siem Reap as per TripAdvisor.
How They Help
New Leaf donates 100% of its profits to educational projects in the Siem Reap province, and undertakes additional fundraising activities for these projects. They also have a book programme which helps schools with a need for English language children’s books or Khmer books, based in Siem Reap. New Leaf organises visits for their team to the NGOs they support to provide insight into the NGO’s goals and challenges, helping to create awareness and encourage learning. In addition, they provide volunteer days so their employees receive paid leave for supporting charitable activities. Ian mentions “This year, New Leaf will donate USD 20,000 for educational projects.”
Most the ingredients used in the café are locally grown, so any money spent remains within the country.
The organisation encourages its staff to save for the future and have implemented a Staff Saving Scheme. They also provide their employees with training opportunities in leadership, English and I.T. They provide their event space to other NGOs free of charge to hold their seminars and educational programmes.
To know more about New Leaf Café & Restaurant, click here.
Some Personal Thoughts
The problems that the Cambodian people are suffering with are similar to problems being faced by most developing countries today. Sara mentions “Poverty, education and the exploitation of children are the big problems in Siem Reap.” It makes me happy to see how absolute strangers get together to put together something that will better humanity.
Those who are suffering need such support from people who have more than they do. We are the only ones who can help. We are the only ones who can provide clean water to the people of Ethiopia and provide basic food to the people of Somalia. We are the ones who can help people fight for their lives in Afghanistan. We are the ones who can educate the uneducated in India and Bangladesh. We need to remember that it’s only us who can make a difference and no one else.
However, tread with caution before volunteering while abroad. While most people mean well, your actions may unwittingly cause more harm than good. Shannon O’Donnell from the blog A Little Adrift wrote a fantastic guide to ethical volunteering while abroad on Nomadic Matt’s blog here. This is a great place to start.
How Can You Help If You’re In Siem Reap?
There are plenty of NGOs in Siem Reap. One of the most reputed and well known NGO is ConCERT. ConCERT provides information and links to well-run projects that need support to tourists, potential volunteers, donors etc before they get involved. They use their experience to enable people to help Cambodians via reputable organisations and NGOs.
Phil says “ConCERT is a very good guide and they generally have a lead on which NGO is genuine.” Sara explains their relationship with ConCERT as “a relationship based around mutual respect and admiration; we both strongly believe in promoting responsible tourism and using practical, well-thought out ways of helping Cambodia.”
- Sara mentioned “Nowadays, with the rapid increase in orphanages that are run like tourist attractions, many of which have little in the way of child protection policies, supporting an orphanage can often do more harm than good.” So, think before you act.
- Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Encourage self-empowerment.
- Sara mentioned “Before you help, get in touch with ConCERT, read the ‘thinkchildsafe.org’ website, do research on the internet, read articles and blogs and keep your eyes open for Child Protection Policies.” Since there are several helping organisations in Cambodia, do your research well before you invest your time and money.
- If you’re only in Siem Reap for a limited amount of time, you’re better off teaming up with one of the established organisations and volunteering to help with their projects. Think before you consider setting up something of your own – it takes times and years of effort in order to make a change. If you have to abandon a project halfway through, a lot of people’s lives may be negatively affected.
- Read the aforementioned blog post on Nomadic Matt’s site. It’s a great resource to get you started.