Rajana strive to provide Cambodian artisans with fair wages, dignity and sustainable livelihoods. A non-government organisation which was founded by Marie Hill and the Southeast Asia Outreach charity in 1995, Rajana aim to encourage personal growth in an economical, social and spiritual sense. Initially set up to help young people from refugee camps in Thailand to make a living, the first Rajana store was opened in Phnom Pehn, and was primarily focused on training and employing Cambodia’s young people as card-makers. It now employs over 30 artisans with varying skills, and has established several more shops in Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.|
One of Rajana’s most significant projects has been the creation of the Bombshell range of jewellery. The Bombshell Jewellery is crafted from old artillery shell casings that have been gathered up from around the Cambodian countryside and the Mekong River. The bombshells are left over remnants following Cambodia’s terrible history of the Pol Pot genocidal regime, where over 2 million Cambodians were killed between the years of 1975 and 1979. Cambodian artisans have worked on transforming the symbolism of the bombshell from one of tragedy into one of acceptance and peace.
Using an acetylene torch, trained artisan’s cut rings from the cylindrical brass shells and then polish the edges smooth, after which beautiful leaf and dove motifs are hand-engraved into the metal with intricate Khmer patterns from Angkor Wat. After being cut and engraved, the rings are electroplated and shined, and then sold locally to tourists or marketed internationally.
Brass and silverwork has been a trade in Cambodia since the 8th century, and not only are the jewellery pieces made by high-quality craftsmen; the individual pieces have an enormous sense of history and meaning. The process of creating the jewelry is incredibly rewarding in itself, as it encourages the growth of skills and income for those who were victims of the genocidal conflict.
The artisan’s employed by Rajana are offered security from its stable work environment where they are respected and have the chance to create a sustainable livelihood for themselves. Their basic salary is well above the minimum wage for Cambodian’s working in the garment sector, and whilst the artisan’s work hard for their wage, 8 hours a day, 6 days a week, they also receive holidays and training, and are able to earn a bonus upon learning a new skill.
Other than the bombshell jewellery, artisan’s have the opportunity to work in the areas of silk painting, card-making, administration and sewing. Rajana offers training courses in management, leadership, marketing, computers, sewing, product development, reading and writing in Khmer, and also a year of free English lessons. This shows Rajana’s dedication to ensuring their artisan’s are given opportunities to enhance their skills and achieve highly within their trades. Rajana also offer saving plans for their staff, helping them to save and invest their income into important areas such as health insurance.
Rajana also support home-based artisans, allowing them to maintain a good balance between family and home life. Overall there are three workshops made up of 37 people, with 4 silversmiths in the Phnom Pehn workshop, and four home artisans.
Living as a single mother is difficult in any culture. Prak Vichra was widowed after just two years of marriage when her husband died in a traffic accident. With one daughter to support, Vichra began working as a tailor out of her home, but business was sporadic and her income was undependable. In 2008, she began working at Rajana where her income is not only steady, but also more than double the amount she made at home. She can now support herself and her daughter with the peace of mind that comes with a monthly paycheck. She enjoys her work sewing clothes, and especially likes working with new styles.