Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Interview with expatinterviews.com

I'm rubbish at marketing myself on this blog, so I've decided to post the published interviews and stories on Bloom, starting with this one, which was published almost a year ago! www.expatinterviews.com

Singaporean expat Diana runs a social enterprise while living in Cambodia

Posted May 10th, 2007 by adminCambodia

Diana and her partner did not move from Singapore to Cambodia to earn money for themselves, but to help the locals by employing them. Living in the city of Phnom Penh, they've found like-minded foreigners who want to create better living conditions for the Khmers. Diana discusses her projects and several aspects of her expat life in this part of Southeast Asia.

-Where were you born?

-In which country and city are you living now?
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

-Are you living alone or with your family?
With my partner

-How long have you been living in Cambodia?
Since June 2006

-What is your age?

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Cambodia?
I decided to live in Cambodia after my first visit in April 2006. Shocked by the poverty, I planned to return to Cambodia to start a social enterprise, firstly to provide jobs for poor people but ultimately to turn a successful business over to Cambodians. Bloom Cafe and Bag's profits go to staff and back to the business allowing us to train more people.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?

No, it's easy to apply for a business visa. Cost me USD260 for a year.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?

No it was easy. I bought insurance in Singapore, before I went to Cambodia. I contracted dengue within four months of arriving here so that came in handy.

-How do you make your living in Cambodia? Do you have any type of income generated?
I don’t earn a salary here. My partner and I did not come to Cambodia to make money, but to provide jobs for Khmers. We plonked in our savings into the two social enterprises and only hope to get back our capital at the end of the day. The income is supposed to come from the businesses, Bloom Bags and Bloom Café. But as they are new, we are not profitable yet.

-Do you speak Khmer and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
Yes, I speak Khmer. I bought a book when I arrived and made an effort to self-study every night. It was important for me to learn as none of the workers at Bloom Bags speaks English.

I think it is extremely important to learn the local language and customs if you want to feel part of the local society. I do not understand expats who live in a foreign land and expect the locals to accept them when they don’t even make an effort. If you want to make friends with locals, speaking the language definitely endears you—I sometimes get discounts at the market! If you agree language describes the world we live in, then speaking the local language will help you understand the local mindset and culture a lot more.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
Yes, I do miss home and family and friends. I am lucky to have my partner here with me. My two Cambodian puppies also keep me entertained. For fun, I volunteer at Riverkids Project (www.riverkidsproject.org) and take walks along the riverside.

-Do you have other plans for the future?
My plans are to hand over the businesses to Bloom’s Cambodians workers once we are profitable and to have a good rest.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
I’ve rented a house near Toul Sleng Museum for Bloom Café and for Bloom Bags, I share with Riverkids Project, as Bloom’s trainer also provides vocational training to teenagers at risk of being trafficked.

-What is the cost of living in Cambodia?
You can live very cheaply in Phnom Penh and also very well. You can get a small apartment for USD150. Food is cheap and you can buy a second-hand motorbike for USD500. A couple will get on by fine on USD1000 a month. On the other hand you can live like a king in your villa and travel in your Hummer.

-What do you think about the Cambodians?
Khmers are very friendly and enjoy talking to foreigners. Many of them speak English. Westerners often talk about getting the “Rock Star treatment” just because of the way they look. Khmers just love foreigners. A cynic would say it is our money they love, but I disagree.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Cambodia?
People are very friendly and helpful. That for me is the best thing about living here. Also, meeting like-minded expats. Many expats are here to help Khmers, so it’s great to learn from them and to know there are many people who care about making a difference.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Cambodia?
Not really. I’m relatively new here and probably need tips from other expats in Cambodia instead!

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Cambodia?
You can find out more about Bloom, Riverkids, and Cambodia on my blog, Cambodia Calling.

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