Before moving to Melbourne at the end of 2011, I lived in a village in rural Cambodia for two and a half years. I was overcome by the poverty I saw. I wanted to help make a difference. My intentions were good but running a social enterprise effectively is complicated. I had no idea of what was needed.
Thankfully, I met Monika from Cambodia Knits and was able to learn from her vast experience of working with marginalised women in Cambodia. I had already started a sewing project and wanted to design a product we could collaborate on. It needed to be something that customers would be attracted to – the story behind it would just be a bonus. The idea of the happily made monkey came to me while on the back of a tuk tuk.
Who knew that this little brown monkey with his magnetic hands would become such a hit? Not only is he loved by people of all ages but he has now become a popular travel companion and I get to see photos of my monkeys having adventures all around the globe!
Incredibly, there are now over 120 women knitting the monkeys. Thanks to our Sleepy Snoogus range (that Monika designed after many sleepless nights with her new baby) we now have a scholarship fund for our knitter’s children to go to school. I love that our knitters have an income – their children can now go to school and have a chance to finally break out of the poverty cycle.
The past five years have been far from smooth sailing. If I didn’t know that my efforts were making a difference, I would have given up a long time ago. I always craved a meaningful life and assumed that I would find it in a Cambodian village. As is turns out, I can be a lot more helpful while living in Melbourne and supporting the project from a distance. I love educating people about the importance of ethical consumerism and making sustainable choices. It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by the poverty in developing countries and allow it to paralyze us. But we can’t let that stop us.
My message is that people don’t need our aid or our charity, what they need is our business. When we buy their happily made products we are empowering them and our purchases impacts the whole family which in turn transforms the community.