I'm not here to change the world, says Singaporean woman in Cambodia

I'm not here to change the world, says Singaporean woman in Cambodia

Diana Saw had just had a defining moment.

On a holiday in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, she had just witnessed a woman selling her baby.

"I was quite traumatised," the Singaporean said of the experience in 2006.

Sitting in that mother's hut made out of leaves with no toilet, running water or electricity, Diana, then in her mid-30s, thought: "How can two women who are around the same age live in such different circumstances?"

Diana, who had just left her job as a regional general manager for a billion dollar company, put the difference between her and the woman down to "pure luck", but she didn't leave it at that.

"I thought, what was the best way to help these women after the whole experience? Was it to donate $50,000 to an NGO or should I come and set up something myself?

"I went back home and told my partner that this is what I want to do: I want to come back to Cambodia, start a business, employ single moms."

Within two months, Diana and her partner had moved to Phnom Penh. But her good intentions didn't yield the results she was looking for, at first.

Several ideas and businesses failed, including a café.

There was also the difficulty of learning a new language and living in a different culture.

But she worked hard to master the language and immersed herself in the culture, so she could connect with the women working for her.

Finally, she saw an opportunity and a demand, and set up a small workshop to make bags out of recycled materials.

Offering wages above the market rate and a cheerful working environment, she gave single mothers, and eventually other at-risk women, stable jobs so they could feel a sense of security.

"May they never sell their children again because they know that there is a job waiting for them and the children can go to school," she explained.

"I'm a big believer in jobs. I think having work, giving meaning to your life, and stability - that's important."

In Cambodia, where there are thousands of NGOs but continued pervasive poverty, it's easy to be disheartened by the magnitude of the social problems.

And it hasn't been easy for Diana running her small social enterprise: she's been let down by some of the women she's tried to help, kicked out by landlords who then sell copycat bags in the same shop, and even threatened with acid when she confronted a staff member who was blatantly stealing from her in Phnom Penh.

Some days she wonders if she's even making a dent.

Instead of throwing in the towel when it's been tough, however, she's evolved her business and seized opportunities, moving her fairtrade, recycled bags business to Siem Reap and online at http://www.bloomcambodia.com/, and opening a guest house (http://www.bloomguesthouse.com/) near the famous Ankor Wat temples.

And she constantly reminds herself: "I'm not here to change the world. I'm just here to change the lives of those six women, 12 women, and their families."

How you can help

You can buy a cool Bloom Cambodia bag from http://www.bloomcambodia.com/

 

A story by Our Better World- telling stories to inspire good, an initiative of the Singapore International Foundation.

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