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Weeds weave new hope for village jobs

Circular mats like this are becoming more popular among Cambodian customers.

TWO years ago, Hak Vanna was a designer of liana and rattan furniture. Today he is the director of Handicraft Water Hyacinth Products of Cambodia, providing jobs for hundreds of villagers around his headquarters at Champoukheak village, Sangkat Prek Thmey, Khan Meanchey in Phnom Penh.

During his training with the Basket Organisation of Cambodia on working with liana and rattan in 2007, Hak Vanna had the opportunity to see handicrafts made from water hyacinth in Vietnam – a plant that often chokes up waterways in Cambodia and grows like a weed.

“When I saw handicrafts made from water hyacinth, I was surprised because there is water hyacinth everywhere in Cambodia and I thought this skill might get a lot of support. So I spent two weeks to learn a few skills in working with water hyacinth,” said Hak Vanna, aged 34.

“I couldn’t believe there would be the demand there is today. At first, I just made things for my friends as souvenirs, but the word spread after a few years.”

Foreigners were among the first customers but now more Cambodians are buying goods made from water hyacinth, such as furniture, he said.

In the workshop, about 10 workers are cutting wood and welding iron for furniture frames. Several female weavers are pulling out the water hyacinth canes and weaving them together on an enormous frame.

After weaving is finished, the stems is cleaned and dried before being stretched over wooden or bamboo frames to hold the furniture’s shape.

Hak Vanna has about 16 employees at his workshop, just enough to fulfill customers’orders, he reckons.

Many more – about 300 to 400 people who work at home – earn money by weaving hyacinth products for his firm, he said.

“At first, I ran the workshop in Siem Reap but because there were not many skilled weavers, I needed to spend a lot of money and time to each my staff,” he admitted.

“After that because I hadn’t learned about protecting the water hyacinth from mould, I paused my career for a while. But when I discovered how to protect it against mould, and increased my orders, I decided to reopen the factory at the end of 2009,” he said.

Sok Srey Touch, who has 10 years’ experience of weaving liana and rattan as well as other canes, is one of the villagers who works for Hak Vanna. “I can earn 8,000 riel per day for eight hours’ weaving at the workshop but I can earn more in my free time at home by making products there,” she said.

Villagers work for Hak Vanna at their homes in areas such as Champouskaek, Chher Teal, Prek Dong and Kampong Svay.

“We also provide the workers with the raw materials so they need to pay only for energy costs,” he explained.

And he hoped that more Cambodians would support Khmer products which also provide more jobs for local people.

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