Sorn Voeunthein Neang, above, strains freshly dyed paper pulp for a recycling project
near her home on the edge of Boeng Kak lake in Phnom Penh.
The 26-year old mother of two is HIV-positive and part of a community development
initiative that collects used paper from NGOs and turns it into notebooks, photo
albums and letter-writing sets.
Ten families living with HIV/AIDS are involved, with each worker earning a small
salary as well as rice and transport to Médecins Sans Frontières where
they can access free anti-retroviral drugs.
The finished paper products are being marketed to boutique tourist shops in Phnom
Penh and Siem Reap, and after only a month's production there's already interest
from as far afield as Sydney and Manchester.
The project is the brainchild of Kate McMahon, an Australian Youth Ambassador working
with Cambodian Volunteers for Community Development.
"What's great is that it's providing a message about the environment as well
as giving a group in need a source of income and dignity," said McMahon.
Previously, many of the families relied on begging or sorting through rubbish to
survive, but the paper-making gives them an alternative.
"It's a big improvement," said Neang. "At first I didn't understand
what they were doing but now I'm very happy to do it."
A group of student volunteers from the University of Birmingham has helped by paying
for the wooden drying rack that is now given pride of place on a narrow alley behind
the International Mosque.
The end result is unique paper in a range of colors, featuring artistic touches from
nature such as bamboo fleck or covers decorated with bougainvillea leaves.
Anyone interested in donating scrap paper or stocking the handmade paper products
can contact Kate McMahon on 012 502 100 or email [email protected].