Cambodia is a fascinating country, fresh with hope & optimism in the face of a tragic history. After the terror of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970’s and Pol Pot’s murderous involvement in the country until the 1990’s, Cambodia is in a rebuilding phase to say the least. Of the current population of 15.5 million, 52% of the population is under the age of 24, and 31% are under the age of 14! This is a country of YOUTH. So perhaps unsurprisingly, Cambodian businesses & NGO’s are finding ways to train up the youth of the country.
In our 3 weeks in Cambodia, we ate at no less than 10 “training restaurants”, which are cafes or restaurants that are clearly labeled as a place where they hire disadvantaged youth & young adults to train them and provide a valid income for the family. It was heartbreaking to see the see amount of kids begging on the street, or trying to sell handicrafts at the tourist attractions. These training businesses are providing an alternative income to former street kids, women rescued from prostitution, or various other specific causes. Maybe there’s an abundance of these businesses because in Cambodia, it’s a blend between a country of great poverty & need and a system that allows foreigners to start a business as an NGO. Whatever the reason, it looks like they are here to stay. And it’s a good thing, because most serve AMAZING food!
I know many other countries have this same model of business, because we visited a few in Thailand. But Cambodia actually labels and markets them this way. It was the first time I had ever seen it that obvious. I guess it’s not a bad thing for all the customers who visit the establishment to know that these young girls all used to be prostitutes. Or is it? One company in Phnom Penh took it to a whole new level, with not just stating that their girls had been rescued from sex trafficking, but to even offer sex trafficking awareness presentations above their cafe!
My heart beats for justice, and I will happily give my money to a cafe that is helping rebuild a community, so I’m definitely not down on this model of business. And it works well in Cambodia. Some of the highest rated Trip Advisor restaurants are these training businesses! I just kept wondering what it would look like in the States. Imagine a restaurant opening in New York City that hires former homeless men, cleans them up, gives them training & a job. Would that restaurant do better or worse for advertising it’s employees stories? I don’t know. But it’s interesting to see what’s been working well in Cambodia!