When I was visiting Cambodia this past April, my friend Sreylin and I were contemplating what we should do for our customary ‘day of fun’ that happens every time we get together. The issue was, we had pretty much been every place in Siem Reap and partaken in every activity that interested us. We had hit a wall – how were we going to find something new and fun to do?
So, we hopped online and came across Backstreet Academy, who sell handcrafted activities. Browsing through the list, which included knife making, stone carving and cooking classes, we settled upon water hyacinth weaving as it was reasonably priced and involved women’s empowerment. This was going to be interesting!
A couple of days later, Sreylin, Seyla and I made our way to Phare Circus, where Backstreet Academy had set up a space for workshops. We were met by a young Khmer woman with near-perfect English, who was excited to have her very first Khmer participants. She introduced us to the woman we would learn from; she came from a village around 30 minutes from Siem Reap town. We were given a choice of what we wanted to make, and I, of course, chose the most difficult basket, as it was the prettiest for storing my tealight candles.
As we were guided on the complex art of water hyacinth weaving, we learnt more about Rokhak Women Handicraft, a socially responsible business that was founded by Sounsrors Hor and exists to support mothers to work in their homes so they can take care of their children.
We learnt that the women who work for Rokhak first have to collect the water hyacinth, then dry it for two weeks, checking the quality to ensure it is up to scratch to weave with. They then use the dried water hyacinth to make bags, coaster, baskets, tissue boxes and rugs.
If I am being honest, the woman who was teaching us ended up having to make most of my basket, as my brain just wasn’t coordinating with my hands. It gave me such an appreciation of how much effort goes into making products from water hyacinth and rattan; it also made me wonder just how much the people making these baskets for Kmart are getting made when they are selling them for such a low price.
We had such a great time at the weaving workshop, that I have added it to our Purpose and Philanthropy itinerary! Join us for our next trip, or be sure to book with Rokhak if you are visiting Siem Reap. You can book online through Backstreet Academy.