Aside from being a tourist-favourite because of its vibrant culture and arts, Siem Reap province is also a marvelous place for people who want to revive Khmer traditions for Cambodians and the country’s foreign visitors.
Sorn Sroem’s family, for one, has set a mission to bring back the glory of coconut handicrafts in Prasat Kavan.
As early as 7 in the morning, the family – composed of four members – already looked so busy. Every member of the family had their own tasks to complete. In one corner of their home, Sroem’s husband had his full attention on the wood cutting machine, axe and hammer as he chopped woods for the heron souvenirs. Sitting on the bed were two children sticking the eyes of herons into the coconut carving. Sroem, meanwhile, was busy smoothing the wood.
“All of us are occupied with different responsibilities as our customers gave us only 10 days to finish the orders. So, we cannot rest and must complete everything until nighttime because we only have three days more before the deadline,” says Sroem, sitting amidst the completed heron souvenirs and their raw materials.
“We always need to make our products fast because the orders come continuously. Most of the people buy our products so they can also sell to hotels and restaurants. But the thing is, we cannot always get coconut as much as we want because we only have one source. We depend on the availability of our raw material, too. So, we really just have to wait.”
It has already been almost 20 years since Sroem started making coconut and palm handicrafts. She said that she grew up seeing all the coconut handicrafts and other kitchen materials since she was young as her father did handicrafts as his part-time job years ago.
“Perhaps I was inspired by my father to love handicrafts. Back then, he did not teach me how to do it nicely. But after I got married, I decided to make it myself. My husband and I tried to create plenty of materials such as tea pot, bowl, ladle, chopsticks and other stuffs by using coconuts and palm trees. In the meantime, we also make some souvenir items for tourists.”
Sroem said that her small business is providing her family their basic needs, as not too many people are into the same line of entrepreneurial endeavour. She said that even if coconut handicrafts require her family’s time and energy, she values her business and considers it her contribution to the society.
But Sroem admitted that one challenge is hindering her family from making the business bigger – the absence of a conducive work space.
“I want to move to another quieter place because I feel that my neighbours do not like the noise created by our machines. Plus the dust that we’re creating is also becoming a problem. Though they never said anything, I can feel that they’re not too happy. I’m just trying to put myself in their shoes and I try to understand what they’re feeling.”
As she saves up money for a bigger and better space for her business, Sroem said she will continue to treasure coconut handicrafts as it represents how Cambodian ancestors have lived in the past.