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Two faces of Angkor

Two faces of Angkor

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Chumm Voeung carves a water buffalo’s head out of wood in Rohal village, near Ta Prohm.

While the Bayon’s enigmatic smile might be the face of Cambodia, the people working within the Angkor Archaeological Park are its heartbeat. Despite the substantial revenue generated by tourism, many of these are struggling to make daily ends meet.

One kilometre from the temple of Ta Prohm, a dirt track leads to the tiny village of Rohal.

Chhum Voeung, 30, sits in a rough wooden shack carving a large block of wood with a chisel. It is destined to be a water buffalo’s head, sold to tourists. His brother Soeut, 35, works next to him.

Soeut has two completed miniature wooden Khmer houses placed in front of him. Part of an order for 10 houses, Soeut fears he will only be able to make five houses in time, as his work is too slow.

The brothers still use hand tools to carve the wood because electricity is expensive in their village. It is almost twice that charged in the town of Siem Reap, they claim.

Part of a small cooperative that includes two women, Key Ky and Pov Leang (both 31), they share communal tools, but work separately, selling their craftwork to the traders who work around the various temples of Angkor.

Key Ky has been carving wood for seven years now.

She makes light of the physical nature of the work. “It is not really difficult,” she says. Voeung agrees that the work is not tough, though he fears for the future.

“The increased price of wood and difficulty in finding it is making things hard,” he says. He hopes to find some work outside of the village, possibly as a stonemason, working on one of the conservation projects carried out at the temples.

Further into the archaeological park and close to the temple of Banteay Srey a woman sits with her young son outside her wooden home feeding caterpillars.

Un Hon was one of many women who eke out a precarious living selling goods roadside in Angkor. She is still paying back the US$800 she borrowed from a micro-finance institution to get started. Two years ago she started farming caterpillars for the Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre in the tiny village of Sanday.

Farmers are provided with a small collection box. They harvest butterfly pupae which are then sold back to the centre.

“One of the good things is the work happens at home,” says Om Srey Vat, 26, the centre’s manager. Most of the 18 farmers employed by BBC in six villages around Angkor are women.

“They can work around their family duties while their husbands go out and get another job.”

Un Hon estimates she makes about $100 each month from harvesting the pupa.

Her four children help her while her husband does occasional jobs around the surrounding villages.

“My family is in a different situation because we have an income, but the difference is not great,” she says.

With between 1,000 and 2,000 butterflies native to Cambodia, the centre was opened to the public a year ago.

Revenue raised from the 25 or so visitors who come to the centre each day helps to fund the social enterprise.

Om Srey Vat hopes to expand the programme to include pupa exports overseas.

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