Cambodia is a country with a fraught history. We all know about the genocide, but what fewer people know about is how far Cambodia has come since the brutal days of Pol Pot. Very far, in short. When David and I arrived in Phnom Penh, our first stop in Cambodia, I kept hearing about business after business that not only made money, but added social value to the community – social enterprises.
Daughters of Cambodia – Phnom Penh
I had heard about this business through a fellow blogger, and had to check it out for myself. It’s a short walk from the National Museum, and you need to keep your eye out for it, what with all the shops jostled side by side. The ground floor is an adorable shop filled with ornaments, home décor products, jewelry and clothing. Everything is hand-made by their staff. Climb half a flight of stairs and you can access the viewing gallery for the story of the Daughters of Cambodia. In essence, what this organization does is provide women who were formally working on the street with the training and skills to move out of their current situation. They learn to sew, become craftstwomen, serve in the restaurant or cook the delightful food.
Which brings me to the top floor. Tasty treats are on display and the tables are more than welcoming with their soft cushions. The menu was to die for! Bear in mind, we visited in mid-late December, had been traveling almost two months, and were missing the holiday trappings from back home. At Daughters of Cambodia we were able to indulge in steaming mugs of mulled wine, a turkey panini complete with cranberry sauce and… yes… a gingerbread man. I had to! David went the mince pie direction, which is an utterly British thing.
The prices were definitely higher than your average Cambodian restaurant, but competitive compared to back home. What made it more than worth the investment was the high quality of both service and fare, and you know that your funding is going towards improving the lives of these women. Make sure you check it out!
Phare Ponleu Selpak – Battambang Circus
Say the word ‘circus’ and I typically cringe, fearing the mistreatment of animals for human entertainment. Luckily, the Phare Ponleu Selpak (a.k.a. the circus), located in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, is not that kind of circus. The arts centre recruits children from disadvantaged families who are looking to learn a skill, whether in the arts or the performing arts.
What a show! The acrobatic and juggling acts are interspersed with a pair of hilarious clowns that keep the audience chuckling along.
And then comes the fire act.
Between flaming objects being flung high in the air and a flaming skipping rope, I don’t know what keeps you more on the edge of your seat.
Tickets to the circus would be considered expensive by Cambodian standards ($20 USD per person), but again, you know that the funds are going directly to the education of these enthusiastic kids. One of the artists was even on their way to Quebec to get training at the International Circus School, known for producing many a Cirque du Soleil performer. Show up in the day time (see the schedule) to get a behind the scenes look at the school. For the show itself, wear bug spray! Bright lights attract the nibbly mosquitoes.
Mad Monkey Hostel
While we didn’t stay here, I certainly had researched the Mad Monkey as an option for our stay in Cambodia. That said, I feel informed enough to share some of the great work this hostel is doing to give back in the community.
Why didn’t we stay there? Ironically because of the cost. Don’t get me wrong, $20 or $25 per night is by no means expensive, but we were nearing the end of our trip and more budget-conscious than ever.
I loved how creative Cambodia is in terms of social enterprise. They’re finding ways to invest in their people while providing real business value, be it through retail, entertainment or the service industry. We could learn a thing or two from them.
Have you experienced a social enterprise business? What did you think?