What do you think of when you hear Phnom Penh? Likely:
But wait, that is not even Phnom Penh-it’s Siem Reap! Right country, wrong city.
When I moved to Phnom Penh just over a year ago I had no image at all in my mind. I had been to Siem Reap, but all I knew was that everyone told me “It’s totally different!” and it is. I knew that moving to a developing country would pose some challenges, but I was coming from Malaysia (so knew I could cope with the heat) and had lived in India 12 years previously (so knew something of living in a bit of chaos) so I thought I’d be prepared.
Landing at the airport I remember being surprised at the green. Driving to the luxurious hotel the school put us up at while we found housing and I could turn away from the grime-mostly in the form of garbage (read plastic and much more) seemingly everywhere.
As I acclimated I learned that, like everywhere, there is more to the story. Our school received the “Green Flag” for environmental efforts and initiatives on campus and among other things, more than 60% of the power is from the solar panels on the roof and there is now no single use plastic allowed on campus. But every day I ride by “the stinky canal”, so I know the other side too.
There are many sustainability projects going on all over Cambodia- Facebook is king here, so much is communicated there. Look at Go Green to learn more. Sandy Kotan at Only One Planet Cambodia is also a valuable resource. Plastic Free Cambodia is another online community that also provides training to organizations on limiting their plastic consumption. Things are changing all the time, so it is hard to keep up with all that is going on. Thanks to Melinda MacKenzie, eco warrior, for leading the way and sharing so much of her knowledge gathering these resources on our staff website.
There is more evidence in daily life that shifts are being made as Cambodia chooses how to balance development and the environment and more places are seeking alternatives. My favorite place to visit to see the positives is Dai Khmer. Dai Khmer is a social business that is empowering women in Cambodia by training them in handicraft skills to create eco products. It started in Siem Reap and the local shop opened in March. The women running the shop are excited to share their stories and I enjoy learning who has helped to source or make the products sold there. Personally I love the soaps- coconut based, and today I bought the new honey and sea salt ones. Loofahs are even being grown right outside the door- talk about shopping locally.
Dai Khmer is also a refill station. It started with coconut oil and dish/laundry soap, but on my visit today they have really expanded and I struggled to choose which herbal tea to buy and will go back soon for other purchases. You are encouraged to bring your own containers, but if you forget, they have jars available. I am making a point of visiting the shop every few weeks, in part because I really want it to succeed, but also because I can’t wait to see what they add next. Their next project- workshops. In a few weeks they will offer a soap making course. I got to watch the soap maker in action today and can’t wait to learn to make my own.
I love having an eco refill station a few minutes walk away and am also thrilled to pass two organic shops before I get back home. Sure, they still look at me with surprise when I hand over my own containers as I get take out but by now at the local market they know I always bring my own bags. Step by step.
Erika is an international teacher currently teaching grade 3 in Phnom Penh. Her “babies” both graduated from high school (years ago) in Berlin, Germany. Erika is a resource collector with current passions including the UN SDGs, inquiry, workshop, global collaborations, and more- trying to learn more to do better every day! You can often find her on Twitter at @ErikaMVictor or reading!