Search form

Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Weavers smile through adversity

Weavers smile through adversity

Weavers smile through adversity

A worker treads the loom at the Weaves of Cambodia workshop, on the outskirts of Tbeng Meanchey. Photo by: Hector Bermejo

LATE-AFTERNOON sun streams through the open walls of the wooden hut. Inside, most of the 20 or so looms lie idle. One woman sits in the middle of the hut spinning silk, while others create scarves and sarongs around her.

At the far end, a couple of wheelchairs rest beside two women who are preparing looms for the weavers. Outside, neglected mulberry bushes are a reminder of more prosperous times.

Weaves of Cambodia, established in 1995 by the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF), lies off a dirt road on the outskirts of Preah Vihear’s capital, Tbeng Meanchey.

Most of the 22 women and 11 men employed by the centre are either victims of land mines or polio. Many are widows.

Occasionally, women such as Tem Chandy, 19, come to the centre from nearby villages to find some work.

“I had no job at home and nothing to do,” Tem Chandy explains.

After an initial three-month training programme, during which they receive a salary of $30, the weavers are paid by the piece.

Tem Chandy receives between $2 and $3 for each piece she weaves, depending on its size and complexity. She can make about 15 pieces each month. The money isn’t much, but she has little alternative.

Kul Yan, 44, has been working at the centre for 10 years. Widowed with two children, she has just remarried.

She, too, is paid by the piece, but at a higher rate than Tem Chandy. She also works more quickly, and can make 20 pieces each month.

“Sometimes, it’s very good and I receive $60 to $70 a month,” Kul Yan says. “Other times, it’s not so good and I get $40.”

In a small shop to one side of the workshop, colourful scarves sell for $25 and large sarongs for $80.

Since VVAF withdrew its funding in 2004, the centre has been supported by American benefactor Carol Cassidy.

Rather than giving direct financial support, Cassidy guarantees to find a market for the weavers’ products overseas, Toch Sar, the centre’s manager and designer, explains.

“We have customers in Singapore, Hong Kong, China, the US and Australia,” he says.

Despite this backing, the centre has fallen on hard times in recent years and Toch Sar is clearly concerned about its future.

“In 1999, we had almost 1,000 people working here on this project and 47 weavers,” he says.

At that time, the centre produced its own silk from the now-untended mulberry trees. Now the workers weave silk imported from China, which Toch Sar says has dramatically increased in price during the past year.

The woman spinning silk on her wheel in the middle of the hut is polio victim Phann Sophanary, 42.

She has worked at the centre since 1996, earning between $30 and $40   a month.

“I survive with difficulty. Sometimes, the money I earn is not enough for me to eat,” says Phann Sophanary, who married four years ago.

“Since we married, my husband has not earned any money because he is ill a lot.”

As a soldier, her husband was shot in the hand by the Khmer Rouge. “Now that he has had surgery to remove the bullets left there, he is gett-ing better,” she says.

It seems the thread that connects these men and women is not so much weaving as surviving adversity.

Yet somehow, most of them manage to remain upbeat.

When I ask her why this is so, Kul Yan answers with a smile. “We have a different easy and a different difficult,” she explains.



  • Breaking: PM says prominent human rights NGO ‘must close’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has instructed the Interior Ministry to investigate the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and potentially close it “because they follow foreigners”, appearing to link the rights group to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party's purported “revolution”. The CNRP - the

  • Rainsy and Sokha ‘would already be dead’: PM

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday appeared to suggest he would have assassinated opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha had he known they were promising to “organise a new government” in the aftermath of the disputed 2013 national elections. In a clip from his speech

  • Massive ceremony at Angkor Wat will show ‘Cambodia not in anarchy’: PM

    Government officials, thousands of monks and Prime Minister Hun Sen himself will hold a massive prayer ceremony at Angkor Wat in early December to highlight the Kingdom’s continuing “peace, independence and political stability”, a spectacle observers said was designed to disguise the deterioration of

  • PM tells workers CNRP is to blame for any sanctions

    In a speech to workers yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen pinned the blame for any damage inflicted on Cambodia’s garment industry by potential economic sanctions squarely on the opposition party. “You must remember clearly that if the purchase orders are reduced, it is all