O N your next visit to Angkor Wat look for the new souvenir shop near the temple's front entrance. Even if you don't purchase any of the handicrafts displayed, it is worth speaking to the proprieter, Hem Sarun.
The shop is the latest extension of a vision that Sarun had when he returned from the border camps to Cambodia.
Hem Sarun started with an idea and a $3,000 Carere grant, which he used to build his first shop near the Siem Riep airport in the village of Baray Tukvill.
An additional $1,000 investment has made possible the extension to the Angkor Wat location.
At Baray Tukvill, the approach to the shop takes one up a path, past gardens and a water lily pond, to an L-shop and the impressive displays of Cambodian handicrafts within.
Hem Sarun is the architect, planner, procurer, project manager and proprietor. But he is also a Khmer teacher for the children of his workers.
The profits of the beautifully laid out shop are split among families in the cooperative that work in and around the shop, and are used to fund a literacy program run in the shop itself.
"Many of the families are too poor to send their children to school, they must help the family to survive.
"We try to teach the children their alphabet. If we take one letter a day, we can teach them the entire alphabet in two months."
Hem Sarun teaches about thirty students at a time.
In addition he tries to find ways to support widows and their orphans with work connected to the shop. Many came from the border camps, and upon their repatriation to the Battambang area they were unable to solve the largest problem facing them.
"How to find land to support themselves, was the problem they could not solve. All of the land is taken already or it is unsafe," Sarun said.
But there are also families who are part of the Battambang poor and who spent the years of externally supported civil war inside Cambodia.
Sarun's shops display a wide range of Cambodian arts made by craftsman from all over the country. Pottery, wood carvings and sculptures, paintings, and woven cloth, are tastefully displayed through-out the shop. Some of the most beautiful basket ware comes from Siem Riep Province itself.
The Baray Tukvill shop is located on Route 6, near the airport.
To reach the shop, drive a short distance toward Battambang (west) away from the Siem Riep/airport intersection.
The shop lies on the right hand side and is easily seen from Route Six.