The Cambodian-founded Organisation for Basic Training (OBT) has been expanding its potential for self-sustainability and is now 70 to 80 per cent self-funded, with only the small remainder of its operating budget coming from external sources. The organisation has 14 full-time staff that manage its work and conduct various projects with students in the community.

Port Sophal, 48, is the founder of the OBT, which was established in 2009 in Chiro Krom 2 village, Chiro 1 commune, Tbong Khmum district and province.

He says his organisation is working on clean water and sanitation, safe crops and the processing and sale of sustainable products, including sunflower oil which is a major source of funding for the organisation.

“At the beginning of 2022, we bought a new machine to squeeze oil from sunflower seeds and resumed the production of cooking oil. We initially launched the project in 2018, but it was suspended after one year, as the machinery we employed at that time was not producing oil as efficiently as we had hoped,” he said.

“In July 2022, we produced more than 200 bottles of sunflower oil with each bottle contains 250ml sunflower oil. We have already sold out all of the oil, thanks to demand from people in Phnom Penh and Kampong Cham. Each bottle was sold for 14,000 riel,” he added.

The Tbong Khmum Provincial Department of Commerce has studied OBT’s cooking oil production project closely, while the Kampong Cham Provincial Department of Commerce has encouraged his organisation to show its products in the “One Village One Product” exhibition.

“The two commerce departments have urged us to develop our production processes to meet increased demand. They have also asked us to display our oil at their trade shows,” said Sophal.

“Currently, I am undergoing study at a South Korean training facility in Phnom Penh every weekend. Once I graduate from the course, I plan to scale up our production line,” he added.

According to the OBT founder, about 4 to 5kg of sunflower seeds can be refined into 1 liter of cooking oil, although the exact amount is determined by the quality of the equipment used to squeeze them.

Harvesting a high yield crop of sunflower seeds can only be done once or twice a year, as crop rotation needs to be managed to ensure the soil remains productive. The OBT has an area of more than 10ha where it grows sunflowers.

“Today, we need between four or five kilos of seeds to produce one litre. Our equipment is fairly efficient, although more modern machinery could guarantee a one litre return for four kilos of seeds every single time,” he said.

“In the coming dry season – early next year – we plan to plant more sunflowers, and will harvest tonnes of seeds to meet the increased demands of the market,” added Sophal.

Currently, a total of 300 poor and underprivileged students from 9 villages in Chiro I commune, Tbong Khmum district and province receive free life skills training from the OBT. There are some villagers who have been working for the NGO since its 2009 establishment, he continued.

He said that the main purpose of the organisation is to provide education and life skills – and disseminate environmental awareness – to underprivileged students. Its various projects work with kids from primary to high school age. The organisation was first recognised by the public in 2014.

In addition, the OBT has developed its own core curriculum to teach students skills including English, Khmer and life skills. Another project, the Preparatory School, has many partners in Siem Reap.

“The prep school programme gives students from 17 to 24 years of age the opportunity to receive additional training for careers. We work with five partners in Siem Reap. From 2009 to 2020, 46 life skills students graduated from the OBT and are working for established companies,” he said.

The weekly schedule of the organisation includes two days of English studies, two of Khmer and one of life skills. The preparatory classes are taught on Saturdays and Sundays, and have been free of charge since 2020.

In addition to providing vocational education to the students, the organisation plans to reclaim the plastic rubbish picked up on the streets of their community. It intends to process diesel from plastic waste as part of the Power Diesel Project, managed by Khun Sive, who founded this project in 2019. The project was put on hold during the Covid-19 pandemic due to a lack of support and a production imbalance.

Tourism services are also a source of income for the OBT. Money is generated by renting houses and bungalows for both national and international tourists who visit the province of their holidays.

“We partner with travel agencies to bring foreigners to visit and relax in our community. Most of the visitors are French, English or German, and come to visit on their vacations. We have four guest houses, each of which can accommodate two guests. We also have nine bungalows. Our small bungalows can host four or five guests, while our large ones are suitable for up to ten,” said Sophal.