SIEM REAP (Khmer Times) – A fair trade village for people with disabilities is slated to open October 1 in the space formerly occupied by Genevieve’s Restaurant.
Spearheaded by Canadian Rick Wakeman and supported by Genevieve’s Restaurant, the concept is simple: create an opportunity for people with disabilities who produce arts and crafts to sell their wares.
When Phil Rogers, the owner of Genevieve’s, moved the restaurant to a new space across Sok San Road, he held on to the vacant space, hoping to find a good use for it.
Mr. Rogers approached Mr. Wakeman after learning of his involvement with people with disabilities in the region.
“I and my daughter Monica are excited about providing a space for disabled people to be able to get together and earn fair prices for their work,” Mr. Rogers said.
“This isn’t a charity,” explains Mr. Wakeman. “It is an opportunity to include some of the disenfranchised in this community in a viable commercial operation that, at least initially, involves people with disabilities but eventually is managed by them.
“It is a chance for them to provide for themselves. It’s giving them access to a market.”
Genevieve’s Fair Trade Village will have six stalls hosting 10-12 artisans seven days a week. Rogers has given them use of the space for the next three years.
“The concept of fair trade takes the middle man out of the equation, so the profits accrue directly to the producer and are not sucked away in the supply chain,” Mr. Wakeman explains. He estimates that the location sees 400 tourists an hour at high season.
With the support of Genevieve’s Restaurant, the Fair Trade Village will offer a display space, sales support and inventory control for a 10 percent commission. That money will go directly to job creation, training and marketing. In contrast, regular shops take up to 60 percent as commission.
Mr. Wakeman says he has spent the past year-and-a-half simply listening to people. He said he has found that “across the broader community, there are so many people with wants, needs, desires and dreams that are not even getting the smallest bit of attention from anybody.
“One of the ways you change that is to get a dialogue going. How does this make sense? What is true development? Who is this about? This market is just scratching the surface.
“I hope that over time, the artisans participating in the project will be able to say, wow, this is for us and about us,” Mr. Wakeman said.
He believes that, as a natural outgrowth of the project, people with disabilities will become more aware that there are opportunities for them.
“We hope to capture their attention and to do it right,” Mr. Wakeman said. “To be accountable, high quality, transparent.”
Controlling Their Own Destiny
Mr. Wakeman also believes that, a year from now, Genevieve’s Fair Trade Village will be operating successfully without him.
“Development work will never be sustainable until the target group is in control. It’s a journey,” he said smiling.
Mr. Wakeman has overseen, and then stepped back from, two additional projects over the past year. Ecstatic Pizza’s Hungry Monkey Literacy Fund and the Khmer Women’s Yoga Club, now 25 members strong, are both managed solely by Cambodians.
“Most people with disabilities are poor, and have never had the opportunities to go to school, to learn English,” Mr. Wakeman said.
“Poverty is the biggest issue for them, not their disability. We want to invite them to have a voice in their community.
“They are the ones who will change the landscape for people with disabilities in Siem Reap. They are going to define their own involvement in this thing. We want them to get recognition, not for their disability, but for their ability.”