There's no better start to the day than a big dollop of fruity jam on a slice of hot, buttery toast. What joy for Phnom Penh’s breakfast enthusiasts, then, that the city now boasts its own range of hand-made conserves in flavours that are distinctly Cambodian: mouth-watering watermelon, luscious pineapple and ginger, and sticky mango and pineapple.
If a better reason than the taste were needed to purchase L’Irrésistible Jam, there’s also the fact that it is produced by Action Handicap Cambodge, an NGO working with adults who have intellectual disabilities.
The project is managed by Frenchman Pierre Chetcuti, who has worked with intellectually disabled people in France for more than 30 years.
Last year, Chetcuti travelled to Cambodia to investigate the situation for people with intellectual disabilities and discovered there was little or no support or care.
He set up Action Handicap Cambodge in January to create vocational job opportunities for adults with intellectual disabilities. Up and running for only six months, the NGO has already placed 30 adults in work at various factories and workshops around Phnom Penh, and its own jam factory began production last month.
The aim of Chetcuti’s organisation is to enable those it works with to “be just like an ordinary guy”.
He believes the sense of pride of his workers is derived from working hard, as well as the small wage each member of staff receives weekly, offers the chance to be independent and provides a meaningful opportunity to contribute to their families’ income.
Positive feedback from managers at the factories in which Action Cambodge Handicap colleagues have been placed has not surprised Chetcuti. He says they are delighted to work and want to prove themselves; they are trustworthy and enjoy simple tasks.
For those unsuited for work in a busy factory environment because of behavioural difficulties, the L’Irrésistible Jam workshop is the ideal alternative.
Here, Action Cambodge Handicap colleagues proudly handle the vegetable peeler and cast-iron pot and produce 30 kilograms of jam every day.
L’Irrésistible’s recipes were devised by Marie-Françoise, Chetcuti’s wife.
Making jams in Cambodia wasn’t as easy as recycling a tried-and-tested method from back home, as the fruit grown in this country’s hot climate has a much higher sugar content, meaning a lot of trial and error was needed to get the taste and consistency right.
L’Irrésistible Jam uses quality ingredients and aims for the highest quality. Chetcuti wants his colleagues to be proud of their fine product. He is also eyeing the hospitality market, and would love to see L’Irrésistible Jam served in Phnom Penh’s best hotels.
Considering the successes of Action Cambodge Handicap, it is surprising to learn that Chercuti intends to work himself out of a job.
He explains that his emphasis is on sustainability: “We’re trying to develop a new thing here. The idea is that in two years, this NGO will be run by local people . . . we are here to live with people, to work with them and then leave.
“We don’t want to help directly, but to show and share [our skills and knowledge].”
L’Irrésistible Jam is available at the Craft Peace Café, PSE Shop, Natural Garden, Jars of Clay, Le Terroir, Le Cyclo and the 1&1 Supermarket.
To contact the reporter on this story: Anna Brown at [email protected]