How Cambodia’s hyacinth weavers are altering lives for good

On the outskirts of Siem Reap, not-for-profit organisation Rokhak is altering the lives of Cambodian ladies and serving to the setting on the identical time. It’s additionally a model new Intrepid expertise for 2023. We sat down with founder, Hor Sounsrors, to learn how invasive weeds can be utilized for good.

Looking over Tonlé Sap lake in northwest Cambodia, you possibly can see big clumps of greenery dotting the water, floating between the stilt homes of Kompong Khleang. It seems to be fairly, however that greenery is definitely water hyacinth, an invasive species from the higher Amazon Basin, half a world away – and it’s an enormous ecological drawback.

“When it grows, it grows thick,” says Hor Sounsrors, often known as ‘Sros’, who runs Cambodian not-for-profit Rokhak. “It means there’s no daylight stepping into the water, so the fish and different species beneath can’t get sufficient oxygen. In some locations you possibly can truly stroll on it.”

Turning pest into revenue

A woman sitting in a boat alongside a bundle of water hyacinth

Water hyacinth can double in dimension each two weeks. It’s a virulent pest, choking the waterways and blocking the passage of boats. However Sros based Rokhak to deal with the issue in a novel approach. The centre employs native Cambodian ladies to gather hyacinth from Tonlé Sap and the encompassing rivers, dry it out, steam it, and weave it into baskets, rugs and different handicrafts.

It’s a double win for native folks: they’re serving to the ecosystem breathe and creating precious employment on the identical time.

“Three years in the past, I went to this village and located an previous lady residing in a tent – only a plastic bag stretched throughout as a roof,” Sros says. “However she was residing subsequent to all this water hyacinth. So we skilled her to gather the vegetation, after which folks began shopping for the stems from her, and now she earns a superb residing. She makes use of the income to plant fruit and greens, which she will be able to promote as effectively.”

Locals can accumulate as much as 200 hyacinth stems at a time; they’re introduced again to Rokhak, dried within the solar, then steamed over charcoal to deepen the color and kill any micro organism. The stems are then rigorously woven by hand, turning an ecological catastrophe into one thing helpful – and better of all, precious.

Empowering native ladies

A woven handbag with circular handles. A blue and purple scarf is tied around one handle

Sros says she’s presently coaching 13 ladies to weave the water hyacinth, and Rokhak employs 5 extra full-time within the workshop, producing merchandise for native companies in Siem Reap, or for friends that go to the centre.

Travellers should purchase intricate rugs, stunning luggage and hand-woven plant baskets, and all of the income get funnelled again into the local people. Rokhak additionally runs workshops the place guests can observe their hyacinth-weaving abilities.

“Travellers will get to make the small bowls themselves as a memento,” Sros says. “It’s actually hands-on. We prepare them the identical approach we prepare ladies within the villages.”

This coaching has actual financial worth. It would take three artisans a number of weeks to weave a single rug, however every rug can promote for as much as $300 – greater than most Cambodians see in a month.

Past its ecological affect, Rokhak modifications the lives of native ladies. The centre’s actual product, and its ongoing legacy, is employment and monetary independence. It takes about two weeks to discover ways to weave water hyacinth, however after you have that talent, you’ve received a commerce for all times.

It is a large deal in Cambodia, the place the Worldwide Labor Group estimates ladies spend a massively disproportionate period of time on unpaid care work (about 188 minutes per day, in comparison with 18 minutes for males). It’s a gender-based inequality that has actual affect on ladies’s lives, and livelihoods.

Seeking to the longer term

“When you don’t have any earnings, you don’t have any voice,” Sros says. “Most girls within the floating villages have 5 or 6 youngsters. Many youngsters don’t go to high school, and there’s at all times housekeeping to do. I respect that a lot, however if you happen to ask these ladies what they do, they’ll say, ‘I don’t have a job. I’m only a housewife’.

“My mom at all times instructed me, ‘You must be impartial. You must stand by your self.’ These ladies nonetheless have to boost their youngsters, after all, however now we may give them the talents to make a residing and work at home.”

Sros started her profession as an accountant, however instructing was at all times the dream. Having just lately earned her Bachelor of Training, she says the last word objective for Rokhak is to develop the centre, prepare extra ladies, and finally launch instructional packages for the native youngsters.

“I do some enjoyable actions for the youngsters in my village,” Sros says. “Cooking, portray, drawing, they usually get to expertise the weaving as effectively. Working a not-for-profit is difficult – the cash to begin Rokhak got here from my very own financial savings – however these ladies and these youngsters maintain me going.”

Have older youngsters of your individual? Expertise Rokhak for your self on our Cambodia Household Vacation with Youngsters.


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