Projects – Sareka

Sareka Cambodia, Cambodia


In 2005, a Mandala Trustee travelling in Cambodia met a young man called Peng Sokha in the coastal town of Sihanouksville. Sokha told the trustee about a community of people he was trying to help at the Sihanoukville dumpsite, which lay 20km outside the town centre. There were 21 families that lived and worked on the dumpsite, scavenging recyclable materials which they could later sell – plastic water bottles, tin cans, metal and paper. Life on the dumpsite was very hard and dangerous. An appalling smell, ever smouldering trash, the pollution of air, water and ground, and millions of flies set the scene. While the elderly looked after the newborn babies, the adults and their children scavenged the dumped, half-decomposed trash in search for recyclable materials, and on average they earned between 25 and 50 cents a day. The children were not exempt from this lifestyle, for if they did not work they could not eat, and after a day roaming the dumpsite often barefooted, there was hardly enough money to buy food for that day. Obviously that left no time for education, or any kind of innocent childhood upbringing. As well as disease and infection, high infant mortality and low life expectancy, the inhabitants did not even have a clean water supply. The well, placed there years earlier by a Korean charity organisation, now only pumped up undrinkable, polluted water. They had no medical or dental care, no legal help – in short, there was no way out of the spiral of poverty in which these people lived.

In 2006 the Mandala Trust supported Sokha and the newly formed NGO ‘Sareka’ to begin a children’s painting project. For the first time in the children’s lives they were spared from the drudgery of full time work and given the chance to free their creative spirits by painting. Sareka sold the paintings in Cambodia and to friends and supporters overseas, and with the money generated, they were able to purchase new paint brushes, paints and canvases and keep the project alive. The project was so successful that we were able to use the extra money generated to aid the dump site community with medical treatments, rice and protective clothing. Most importantly, by painting the children were liberated from child labour, and for the first time in their lives could do something they really enjoyed.

A year later, Sareka opened the Sareka Gallery on a popular tourist beach in Sihanoukville, and the Children’s Painting Project was given new life. Besides selling paper products from the Sareka Paper Recycling Project (see below), the gallery also displays and sells the children’s well-known paintings.

In May of 2008 Sareka took four of the older children from the dump site to Siem Reap, to attend a master class in how to make hand-made recycled paper and paper products. In July of 2008, the Mandala Trust enabled them to buy a press and other materials necessary for making recycled paper. After just a few weeks of practising what was learned in Siem Reap, the quality of the paper began to improve by the sheet.

In August of 2008, the ‘Sareka Paper Recycling Project’ officially began. The goal of the paper project was to provide the dumpsite community with a means of generating an income, with an aim of enabling them to move back to the village of Battrang without having to rely entirely on charity. Sareka’s first hand-made recycled paper product was a range of extraordinary hand-painted Christmas cards. All of their popular paintings are now being painted on this paper, with spectacular results! They also make plain paper, leaf & flower embedded paper and cards, and have begun experimenting with other paper products such as boxes and bags.

The Mandala Trust is delighted to have been able to work with partner organisation Sareka and believe their model of sustainable community development should be adopted in other communities elsewhere.