Visiting Cambodia gave me my first experience of witnessing child poverty. When eating out in Phnom Penh one night, two young brothers wandered up to our table armed with a tray of braclets and purses. The older launched into a funny, well-practiced sales patter but after reading that you shouldn’t give money for fear that it will encourage more children to beg, we refused. The next words were horrific to hear.
“Please, we are hungry”
There are no words to describe how I felt and we paid the restaurant to bring them a taco each. We also encountered a kid in the markets of Siem Reap asking for food. He was shooed away by a local shop owner who referred to him as a ‘bad boy’. I asked why and she replied, “he sniffs glue”: he couldn’t have been more than ten years old.
Over the course of our stay, we tried to figure out how we could help. Online advice told us that even giving away food or gifts helps to continue the cycle of children missing school in order to work on the streets. So we decided to look for charities and came across NGO cafes that give back to the local community. Many employ and train youths from disadvantaged backgrounds, something that I felt was hugely important, as well as giving their profits to charities. As we were already eating out twice daily, we decided to visit places where our money would go to a great cause. Here are a few of our favourites NGO cafes in Siem Reap.
We stumbled across Sister Srey by accident when we were desperate to get out of the afternoon heat. Run by two Australian sisters, Sister Srey supports students who struggle to support their family while studying with flexible working and training in English and Hospitality. They also use organic and chemical-free produce wherever possible from local suppliers and recycle 90% of their waste. With their tasty veggie and vegan-friendly food, it felt like we were back in Australia!
Sister Srey Cafe – 200 Pokambor Avenue
Joe To Go
With air conditioning, fast Wifi and reasonable prices, Joe To Go became one of our favourite places in Siem Reap. Everything we tried was delicious – their sweet potato stir fry is excellent! – and the extensive menu caters for Western and Khmer style palates. Best of all their profits go to The Global Child, a school set up to educate street children.
Joe To Go Restaurant – Street 09
People for Care and Learning own Common Grounds so 100% of their profits go towards training staff with fair wages, medical assistance and advancement opportunities. Their food is delicious and it’s equipped with high speed wifi for us internet addicts!
Common Grounds Coffee – #719-721, Street 14
We stumbled upon Footprint by accident one evening and the book-lined interior made us go back the next day! The first in a chain of social enterprise cafes, Footprint donates 100% of its profits to grants for educational projects. It very much caters to Western tourists and was full of people working away on laptops.
Footprint Cafes – Street 26
We didn’t get around to checking out our whole list but the following also came highly recommended:
New Leaf Eatery
New Leaf support a number of local charities that provide children’s education, women’s centres and assistance to families with disabled children. Their 10 step environmental awareness programme includes using locally sourced produce, rubbish clearing and recycling. Plus, the big vegan breakfast looks incredible!
New Leaf Eatery – No. 306, Street 09
Part of the small ‘Tree Alliance’ chain of restaurants, Marum invests in training and social programmes for their students. The tapas-style menu looks delicious and you can find more restaurants in Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, Bangkok and Laos.
Marum – #8A, B Phum Slokram
Every year, millions of tourists visit Siem Reap and yet it’s one of Cambodia’s poorest provinces. Over 40% of under 5’s are chronically hungry. Sure, it’s a small contribution to visit a few NGO cafes in Siem Reap but it leaves me hopeful that, thanks to these charities, Cambodian children won’t need to grow up hungry.
Read more about Cambodia:
8 Reasons Cambodia Stole My Heart (Guest Post)