Kate Allen, managing director of Rehash Trash, tells Lynn Houghtonabout the social enterprise that works with former street kids and their families in Cambodia, and is supported by Explore
Rehash Trash is a female empowerment, skills-training and environmental clean-up initiative. Through imaginative upcycling solutions to Cambodia’s plastic pollution, we employ marginalised Khmer women to create products of value so they can support their families and transform their lives.
Our products are 100% upcycled from discarded materials. Plus, Rehash Trash is creating sustainable and fair-trade employment opportunities for women and ethical shopping with a social and positive eco-impact for tourists.
Rehash Trash began as a morning workshop in 2015, where the women quickly mastered their new production skills. They learnt how to work as a team, appropriate work-place conduct, and other employment skills. In 2017, we opened our own store in Siem Reap, which furthered our workers’ empowerment by crucially creating full-time employment.
I was already living in Siem Reap and was familiar with [NGO] Green Gecko’s work, which I greatly admired. When the opportunity came up to manage their new project Rehash Trash, I jumped at the chance. I loved the connection between female empowerment and environmental protection, which are two areas I feel passionate about.
Our women are from uneducated, often abusive backgrounds. Some also suffer from disabilities or addictions. They’ve never had the opportunity of a job that wasn’t degrading or dangerous. One of our employees, Saram, a 49-year-old mother of four, says that before Green Gecko her life was very hard and she was tired and stressed all the time. Rehash Trash helped her by providing a job to support her family.
The range includes homeware items, such as baskets, tablemats, coasters and floormats, and we also make personal accessories, such as handbags, purses, shopping baskets, key rings and bottle carriers. We don’t use any colour dye in the process – the bags are already coloured when we collect them.
Initial visits with Explore participants were organised by one of our local agents, Grasshoppers. I look forward to collaborating with them [further].
By taking one of our recycling workshops. The workshops offer a fun activity and genuine interaction with local Khmers. Our women teach visitors how to crochet from plastic bags, making a bracelet or key ring to take away as a souvenir. They love sharing their skills and meeting people from all over the world, which is hugely empowering for them, and also helps create additional income to our project.
There are so many great projects and initiatives in Siem Reap alone. There are also places that should not be visited – specifically orphanages, as children should not be tourist attractions. [Clients and agents] should do research and check out sites such as thinkchildsafe.org. Tourists should also visit as many locally owned businesses as possible and shop at local markets, giving a more authentic experience and directly helping local people. Recommend visitors bring their own re-usable water bottle, shopping bags, straws, food containers and cutlery, or, alternatively, visit Babel Eco-shop & Refill Station in Siem Reap where they can buy these items in one traveller pack.
Phare Circus is an absolute must-see, with energetic, entertaining performances. Haven Training Restaurant is a social enterprise that trains 15 young Khmers from disadvantaged backgrounds each year in hospitality skills. APOPO Hero Rats Visitor Centre is where specially trained Giant African Pouch rats help to detect landmines, which are still a very real danger in Cambodia. Fauna in Focus Nature Discovery Centre focuses on wildlife conservation in Cambodia and is great for kids, and Made In Cambodia Market has a huge range of authentic, locally made arts and crafts.
We are currently planning a new product range that will [improve] our environmental impact by upcycling further waste materials. And we hope to introduce a training programme that will ultimately spread more employment opportunities to more women.