After a good and deserved night of sleep, we were ready to start the program. This was our first real day in Cambodia and everyone was very excited to explore the Cambodian life (or actually should I say the Khmer life). After we had enjoyed our rich breakfast, we gathered together at the reception of our hotel to hear what the plans were for the day. We were introduced to Alex, an employee of the Shinta Mani Foundation. He was introduced as our guide for the day and gave a short explanation about the aims of the foundation. Shinta Mani is developed to empower Khmer individuals and to help them in improving their living standards. The foundation is operating in three areas; education, small businesses and healthcare. After the brief introduction, Alex guided us to the bus in order to take us to own of their projects.
By bus we drove through the beautiful surroundings of Siem Reap. We saw small villages, locals driving motorbikes and bicycles, little farms, big dry rice fields, skinny cows and a lot more. It was nice to see something of the Cambodian rural areas, but at the same time it was quite intimidating as well. A lot of students had never seen before these surroundings and especially not these poor living conditions. After 40 minutes we arrived at an organic farm, this farm was developed by Shinta Mani as a learning farm. The farm is created to give poor Khmer an opportunity to practice their farming skills and to teach them about organic technics. Every ten months several women and men were carefully selected (by a comprehensive selection process) who could participate in the project. In the morning they practice their farming skills and in the afternoon they improve their English skills. At the farm they were growing different type of vegetables and also had some animals to take care of.
After this interesting, but sweaty (it was about 37 degrees!), visit we went by bus to one of the villages which was incorporated in the Shinta Mani foundation. People from this village worked for example in the learning farm and had improved their farming skills. Shinta Mani used a reward-system to develop these skills in the most effective way. If the Khmer people were well-motivated and actively participating they were rewarded. The rewards started with 5 kg of rice, but could eventually end up in an entire house. Some families in the villages did get rewarded to this extent and could now finally live in a brick house. Also water filtering systems were supplied by the foundation in order to improve the living standards. The foundation is able to fund mostly of these projects thanks to donations. In the village we got a tour from Alex across different houses, which gave us the chance to discover a bit more about how Khmer people were living. It was very interesting to get an insight in their lifestyle and to meet some of the Khmer people and their children. However sometimes it also felt as quite a touristic tour which made us doubt about the level of authenticity of the village. After this interesting visit we went back by bus to our hotel. We had some time off to dive in the pool, to have lunch and to refresh ourselves before the afternoon program was starting.
At the 3 pm a lecture was organised for us at the Shinta Mani Club and Hotel. In a nice air-conditioned room the manager of the Shinta Mani Foundation gave as more in-depth information about the aims and purposes of the foundation. Furthermore she talked about the selection procedures, finances and organisation of the foundation. It was interesting for us to see how a certain tourism-related foundation organises itself in the real world and with what kind of struggles it has to deal. A lot of knowledge we learned during the past 1,5 years was implied in practice in this foundation. After the lecture we got a tour in both hotels and the opportunity to ask more questions about the foundation and the hotel. The Shinta Mani hotels are used partly to finance the foundation, but also as a learning environment for poor Khmer teenagers. Every year the Shinta Mani foundation selects 23 teenagers who get the opportunity to develop skills in the field of housekeeping, front office, restaurant or cooking. They got an intensive training in the hotel and have the opportunity to improve their English skills. In this way the foundation contributes in improving the living standards of young Khmers.
Altogether, it was a very interesting day for us. We experienced how a non-governmental organisation works in the real tourism industry, something we beforehand only knew from our study material. And this day also has shown us how important trust and respect are in creating and developing a more sustainable tourism industry.