BABEL, already a popular Siem Reap guesthouse, has now turned into a school, slash NGO, slash celeb hangout, all thanks to one of its pro-active owners, Katrine Solhaug.
Katrine has been working in Siem Reap since 2007. She saw how the ethical travel movement was growing here and thought it was an initiative the tourism sector in Norway needed to know about, so she set up Globalstudies. “I have a cooperation with a university in Norway. Students and teachers come here for one semester, they stay here and take in how we run Babel responsibly. We have a classroom here too, so they do their study and they also do excursions to understand how it works.”
A group of 15 students from the Norwegian School of Hotel and Business Management at the University of Stavanger are the first in the new initiative.
Katrine hopes the project will expand to other programs. “Eventually we’ll have more students. We’ll move the classroom elsewhere and maybe include another guesthouse. The students are studying tourism, or hotel and business management, but it would be great to include journalism and photography students too.”
The students are also helping Katrine realise her own ambitions for the Babel staff, .improving their education and work experience.
Part of this includes a staff outing. “We’re taking all the staff to Battambang, while the students look after the guesthouse for a night. The idea is that they get the full traveler experience, and see what it’s like to stay somewhere.”
Last week, the staff and students at Babel were working on something else close to Katrine’s heart: creating a clean and safe school for the 900 students at Sambour Primary. Over three days, the group cleaned out, de-roached, and repainted the school.
To add an extra boost of fundraising and awareness, Katrine’s long time friend, famed Norwegian singer-songwriter Hanne Sorwaag was in town to lend a hand and muck in.
On the final day Kristine and Hanne, along with students and staff from Babel, collected rubbish around their neighbourhood to raise funds.
To fund the Educational Program, Katrine and her father John Daniel, who is also in town to help out, have set up a fund in Norway, solhaugfond.org, using donations from their friends and family.