The air in Phnom Penh, Cambodia is thick and dirty. You can actually see the air in some areas of the city.
Combined with the fact that the main mode of transportation for visitors is the open air tuk tuk, a kind of rickshaw cart pulled behind a motorcycle, moving around the city can be difficult and dangerous for your health.
In some places nearly everyone is wearing surgical masks, the kind of disposable masks that attach with loops to both ears and cover your mouth and nose.
At one point while on the way to visit the Somaly Mam Organization, our tuk tuk driver felt so sorry for us, as we choked along holding our shirts over our faces, he stopped and purchased masks.
We tried to reimburse him but he wouldn’t accept.
This is our experience in Cambodia, an overwhelming mix of difficult surroundings, difficult knowledge, difficult history and beautiful, generous people.
Buried deep in a maze like neighborhood is a small organization called Craftworks Cambodia. They function with a very hardworking staff of two, Sapbay and Thavry.
Craftworks is our partner in bringing opportunities to home based, and small workshop based artisans who desperately need a market for their handmade products.
We were there to meet as many artisans as time would allow.
In another maze like neighborhood, we walk into a very small metal workshop run by a married couple with two young children.
Chenla and Thearney have difficult stories, he grew up in an orphanage, she grew up in a refugee camp. Somehow they met and their combined resilience formed something incredible.
They are very clear that no matter how difficult it is, they will keep going, their daughter will go to school (still rare for poor families in Cambodia) and their family will remain together.
The workshop is small and spills out into an open area in the front, which was a huge problem during the rainy season.*
The family lives in the small space behind the workshop.
The space is filled with old metal working equipment. The walls are lined with 5 gallon buckets of brass bullet casings and rocket casings from small to 3 feet high, all of which were dug from the ground and riverbed nearby.
In this small workshop, the remnants of decades of war in Cambodia are transformed into beautiful pieces of jewelry. The jewelry is symbolic of so many things: resilience, determination, new beginnings, possibilities….. Peace.