The Coconut Project in Kep teaches rural young people to make, market
unique jewellery and craft items using simple coconut shells
From Christmas tree ornaments to earrings, each item produced by the Coconut Project is crafted by hand.
IN a small room in the rural village of
Chamkea Bei in Kep municipality, a group of young people are carving
out a niche in the handicraft market through a unique community
Each morning, in this "coconut shell" room in the Chamka Bei
Vocational Training Centre, earrings, necklaces and other jewellery (as
well as Christmas decorations) are meticulously crafted by hand using
coconut shell. The process is a lengthy one as the makers go through
about eight different stages of filing, sawing and sanding to get to
the finished product.
The results are natural, eco-friendly products made entirely from sustainable resources.
"They start with the coconut husk, file and cut the hair away and
then glue the design on and cut around with a hand saw," says Antonia
Marison, founder of Khmer Creations, one of the organisations behind
the initiative. "The piece is then sanded with up to six different
grades of sandpaper and polished with coconut oil to finish. It usually
takes between two to four hours to complete one piece.
"Every piece is different and unique - no two pieces
are alike. What I also like about them is that they are not
machine-manufactured or perfect, which adds to their individuality,"
Marison added. "In order for this project to be a successful and
sustainable enterprise, the quality of our products is paramount."
The Coconut Project was created through a partnership of Khmer
Creations and Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia (BABSEA) under the
Hand in Hand integrated community development project.
The idea behind the intiative, said Marison, was to provide young
villagers with a marketable skill that would eventually lead to
sustainable economic self-sufficiency.
"We identified handicrafts as an area where there was a genuine
interest from villagers, especially the youth, as well as a burgeoning
market," she said.
To help get the project off the ground, a jewellery designer was
brought from Japan by Khmer Creations to train the young people in
jewellery production and provide design consulting. She came up with
"Khmer-focused" designs and carried out a three-week intensive training
program with 10 local youth.
Young members of the Coconut Project holds up sample products.
The workshop participants were selected from among the poorest
young people in the village, most of whom had previously worked as
subsistence farmers. While the participants were enthusiastic and eager
to learn, their families were initially perplexed at what their
children were doing playing with coconut shells during rice-planting
season, said Marison.
It was only when they began to sell their
handicrafts back to Khmer Creations and to hotels in Kep that the
community began to value this seemingly waste material.
"Jewellery making is a skill that anyone can acquire after some
training and it is empowering for the artisans," said Marison. "They
take a lot of pride in their work, particularly when they see the
In the initial stages, the Coconut Project is trying to sell
locally in markets in Kep and Kampot as well as encourage people to
come down to visit the workshop where they can purchase the goods. They
have also begun selling their jewellery at the Friends flea market held
in Phnom Penh every month, and Khmer Creations is currently approaching
international fair-trade buyers for the Christmas decorations.
Every piece is
different and unique – no two pieces are alike.”
"We had a great response to the jewellery at the last Friends flea
market, and in particular to the Christmas decorations. There is a
huge market out there for ethical Christmas decorations and now is the
time to start tapping into that market. People always like to see
something different and have what no one else has."
Learning a business
"Once they have enough orders they will work
independently. A percentage will go back to the project to buy
equipment like the saw blades which are imported from Germany but
available in Phnom Penh. Also, in the future, once BABSEA has phased
out management of the vocational training centre, the artisans will be
required to pay rent for the workshop space ensuring that vital funds
to go back into the community."
BABSEA will continue to recruit trainees for the coconut project
according to market demand for the products. They will be trained by
the first group, allowing them the opportunity to pass on the skills
they have learned.
"By supporting this project, we will be giving young people in Chamka Bei a new perspective on small businesses," said Marison.