Back in 2012 I had a dream. A dream to initiate a sewing program at Human and Hope Association so we could provide unskilled villagers with the means to move out of poverty. In April 2013 that dream came true. By asking people to donate funds for my birthday, we were able to set up morning and afternoon classes targeted at the most impoverished people in our community. It didn’t go according to plan, of course. It rarely does when working with people who are in such financially unstable situations that they cannot take four months off to study part-time. Of those initial classes, only two ladies are still using their sewing skills.

However, we learnt from that. As time progressed we developed our sewing program into one that teaches villagers a full set of sewing skills over 10 months, in addition to chemical-free farming and life skills lessons that address the many social issues Cambodians face. We started bringing the children of the students into our education programs, ensuring that we were empowering whole families to break the poverty cycle. We began business skills workshops so that our students could get the most out of their microfinance loans. We began asking the questions, “How can we help you to succeed?”, and implemented lessons around that. Most recently we set up a small sewing materials shop at our organisation to address the fact that the nearest sewing supply store is 10km from our commune, enabling our community to purchase supplies from us, increasing their business and also making a small profit for our projects.

We are now in the position where villagers approach us to study in our program; gone are the weeks on end that we had to travel through countless villagers to encourage the most marginalised that their lives would be improved if they learnt a skill. We also are now retaining 100% of the students who study with us. That has taken three years of relentless hard work, but when you see a woman able to provide her child with a nutritious meal three times a day and public school education, you know it is worth it.

Ever since we set up the sewing program, I have been determined for Human and Hope Association to earn profits from it so we could support our projects and not be entirely reliant on donors. Developing the handicrafts has been a big lesson for me; everybody has their own personal preferences, and if you don’t market the products correctly, no one will buy them. It has been hard not to take the ‘failure’ of some products personally, but I have persevered and continued to work with my end goal in mind. Thanks to the work of my team in Cambodia and my wonderful fundraising board in Australia, we have finally found a range of products that are doing well, with some new and exciting products on the way.

We now have an online store dedicated to Hope Handicrafts. Why the name, you may ask? Well, we are called Hope Handicrafts because when you make a purchase you are providing hope. Hope to the women in Cambodia who make the handicrafts, hope to Human and Hope Association who use the proceeds to provide programs to their community, and hope to the people in Cambodia.

Help me celebrate our achievements with our sewing program and Hope Handicrafts by taking advantage of a 20% discount until Sunday. Just use the coupon code NEWSTORE at the checkout. Don’t feel guilty about shopping, it is all going to a GREAT cause!