Sunday, February 10, 2008

Thank you, Ian and Gene!

Bloom customers Ian and Gene who live in Malaysia, dropped by the Bloom shop in Siem Reap and sent me this really sweet email, which I've asked permission to put up on my blog.

Hi Diana

My girlfriend and I were in Siem Reap over Xmas and went to your lovely Bloom shop. We purchased a couple of trendy bags and a beautiful scarf. The shop assistant (Chin nee?) was very pleasant, I was very impressed with his English, he seems to be making a real effort to study.

Congratulations to you Diana for setting up Bloom and working so hard to make a difference to peoples lives in Cambodia. I'm sure things have been difficult, it must take a lot of perseverance to do what you do. Well done to you and all your staff.

One thought, we were lucky to find your shop, I just happened to look up and see it above the cafe. Unfortunately many other potential customers may not be aware of the shop. Maybe you could display some items downstairs or somehow inform the public or your whereabouts.

Also, would you accept a small donation of $200. Maybe this could buy a new sewing machine or be put towards costs. Please email bank details or how you wish to receive.

Take Care

Ian & Gene
Malaysia

I felt really encouraged by Ian and Gene's email. It's so nice when people get what Bloom is trying to achieve. As I wrote to Ian, I first met Chhun Hy, the young man who works at the Bloom shop, when he was a gas delivery boy in Phnom Penh. He used to deliver gas to Bloom cafe and kept bugging our waitress Srey Roth to ask me for a job (at that point he could barely speak English so he went through Roth, who is Khmer). His job was to carry those 15kg LPG tanks, sometimes up four flights of stairs. His salary was USD40 a month, out of which he had to pay rent and food. No wonder he was looking for a change.

Alan and I decided to hire him as our house guard in Phnom Penh as the cafe had enough staff. (Phnom Penh is quite dangerous that way: we had three attempted -- and one successful!-- break-ins). Alan taught him English every night. Alan is quite a strict teacher, insisting Chhun Hy speaks good English. He kept making Chhun Hy do drills to get the pronunciation right. For example, Khmers don't pronounce "TH" properly because it is not a sound in Khmer. Instead, they pronounce it as "S", so "Thank you", becomes "Sank you". "Think" becomes "Sink" and so on. Chhun Hy is about the only Khmer we know who pronounces "Thank you" correctly. He also impressed some tourists with the phrase, "My English is somewhat limited." Hahaha! That was Alan, the PhD, talking! I also joke that Chhun Hy will end up speaking with a Scottish accent!

To Chhun Hy's credit, he was really keen to learn and most importantly, he kept practising. When we moved to Siem Reap in November, we took Chhun Hy with us. He was living in Phnom Penh with an older brother who works as a driver for a garment factory, while his whole family lives in Kampong Cham province, where they are farmers. It is the story here in Cambodia, as with other countries--young people leave the countryside for hope of a better future in the city.

Chhun Hy now makes more than USD100 a month and is able to save money for his dreams (which includes a fancy phone and a fancy motobike! I don't agree with conspicuous consumption, or even consumerism, but that is the way it is here with young Khmers. Note to self: Another blog entry!) He has also started formal English lessons at the New York International School here (nothing to do with New York, but it sounds good, so it's a popular school with the locals) where classes cost USD10 a month for an hour a day, 5 days a week. The classes are taught by a Khmer man who speaks very quickly, because, says Chhun Hy, he wants the students to know he speaks good English!

Anyway, this is the reason why Alan and I are here--we want Khmers to have the opportunity that we have, as people from more developed countries. If we can help just one Chhun Hy to have a better life, we would have achieved something.

But, we are so lucky. With people like Ian and Gene, who not only bought our bags, but also gave us a donation, Bloom is able to support 10 Khmers and their families.

Thank you very much Ian and Gene!

Re: Bloom's policy on donations.

Bloom does not rely on donations because as I say on the blog, we want to be self-reliant and make the business work on our own. I actually have rejected donations in the past because of this firm belief. There was one time, an old English lady came into the shop and said she didn't want any bags, but can she leave a donation? And I said, "Oh, why don't you pick out a bag instead, because we'd rather sell you something (trade with you) than receive a donation." For reasons I am still unsure of, she refused, and we didn't get a purchase or a donation! (We have bags for as little as 3 for USD1, so it couldn't have been that she didn't want to take an expensive bag!)

Now I think if people want to give us a donation at the shop, we'd give them a bag as a token of our appreciation. While I still do not solicit donations, I also do not reject them anymore, simply because money is tight. So I am grateful for any help.

Disclosure:

Since starting Bloom in Sept 2006, we have received USD300 from Ian and Gene and SGD250 from Potato Productions, after I wrote an article on Bloom for their magazine, Jetaway. One of my best pals, Khim, also gave me SGD2k, when she came into a bit of money, which is going to paying for Sina's (another Bloom member) university fees.

Thanks so much from the Bloom team, guys! I really, really appreciate it.

2 comments:

Lena said...

It is heartwarming to know when one gives (as you have done, Diana) in all sincerity without expecting to be lauded. Nonetheless, there are those (like Ian & Gene) who recognise that what you've set out to accomplish is no small feat so ... take a bow, and keep up the good work!
I look forward to visiting Blooms next week - Lena W

Diana Saw said...

Hi Lena,

Come back soon! I may or may not go to Kathmandu this month as something has come up in Siem Reap. Would be great if we can meet up again and yak and yak!

Cheers,
Diana

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