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Roots Cambodia Community Design Workshop @ Roluos Commune

We had the most incredible homestay experience hosted by the warm and friendly people of Roots Organization Cambodia, Nimol, Chamrouen, Sarou, and locals from Kanhchor Village.


It was a memorable journey that saw us immerse ourselves in Cambodian culture, making heartfelt connections with our new friends from Cambodia, and facilitating inspiring discussions as part of the design workshop focused on community development efforts for a self-sustaining school.


In this blog post, we’ll like to take the opportunity to retrace the steps we took that created the wonderful times and memories we had from our short stay at the Roluos Commune.


Preamble: A Sneak Peek at our Accommodation in Cambodia

Logistical preparations were already going ahead full steam when we received a nice little video clip of our accommodation at the Roluos Commune for our homestay.


In the clip, we saw an idyllic setting, with a road leading up to a huge driveway of sorts that was surrounded with lush greenery, where a quaint looking house on stilts gleamed under the twilight.


Preview of the surroundings of the homestay accommodation


The ambience of the space presented in the clip created an aura of mystique around the house which added to the allure of the homestay we were about to have!


Arrival

It was an early flight on the Singapore Airlines that we boarded, Flight SQ164, as we made our trip to Siem Reap on 26 May 2023, full of excitement and expectations.


After arriving at the Siem Reap International Airport at about 10 am in the morning, we made our way to Siem Reap Town via transport that was kindly arranged for us by our gracious host, Sarou, who is the founder of Roots Cambodia.


At about 1pm, we had our lunch at a restaurant that was recommended by Sarou. With our tummies full, we were ready to check out our accommodations!


Arrival lunch with our team of volunteers at a restaurant in Cambodia


At around 3 pm, we reached the village where we would be staying and proceeded to check in to our homestay --- a traditional mix of wooden houses on wooden columns equipped with modern comforts of life, just like the good old days of kampong life in Singapore during the 1960s.



Homestay accommodation: our home for the 3 days in Roluos Commune

Judging from the smiles all around, everyone seemed to be in the mood to experience a good dose of kampong spirit during our 3-day stay at the Roluos Commune.

At about 4pm, everyone was ready to get moving.


We first toured around the Roluos Commune, at Rolous Commune Local Market, before making our way to the 1.5-hectare site where the new school would be built.

Visiting a local market


New Site


Staring at the large expanse of space in front of us, it was difficult not to let our imaginations run wild as we envisaged the multitude of possibilities that could be created, not only for the school, but the community as a whole.


Staring at the large expanse of space in front of us, it was difficult not to let our imaginations run wild as we envisaged the multitude of possibilities that could be created, not only for the school, but the community as a whole.


Darkness descended quickly and it was time for dinner. Our walkabout was short but a highly useful prelude to the design workshop that we would be having on the next day.

Everyone had a clearer picture of what we would be visualising for Roots Cambodia for the workshop, with free-flowing conversation during dinner punctuated by moments of deep introspective reflection.


With our tummies filled from the sumptuous dinner, everyone was ready to turn in after the long day that involved multiple transits to the place that we would call home for the next three days.


Dinner spread prepared by homestay host


Design Workshop Introduction Segment

It was a bright and cheery day as the local community turned out in droves to participate in the workshop.


After a brief introduction to them on who we are, WeCreate Studio, an architecture firm for social good, and the volunteers that came along with us, we shared a case study of an education business ecosystem in Thailand that Roots Cambodia can model after.


We first looked at BREAD (Business for Rural Education and Development), a social enterprise that was set up to generate funds to support the operations of the Mechai Pattana School, which educates and helps rural children of northeast Thailand in their quest to obtain the tools and resources they need to receive a good education and secure a viable future.


Next, we introduced Cabbages and Condoms, an award-winning restaurant that is acknowledged as one of the finest Thai restaurants in Bangkok. Profits from the restaurant go towards the Population and Community Development Association (PDA), a non-governmental organisation founded in 1974, to provide vocational training for income-generation opportunities, and promote education, environmental conservation, water resource development, and democracy.


Finally, we introduced the last pillar of the business ecosystem, a resort establishment, Birds and Bees, which is adjacent to Cabbages and Condoms, and situated on Hu-Kwang Bay, a five-minute drive away from Pattaya City.


Our team also presented an eco-tourism case study, the Lapa Rios Eco Resort in Costa Rica, and alternative farming ideas such as cricket farming, aeroponics, and hydroponics to our hosts, so as to provide sufficient breadth and depth of activities for them to consider before the visioning process begins proper.


In a way, PDA in Thailand closely resembles what Roots Cambodia, a local non-governmental organisation based in Siem Reap founded in 2018 by Sarou, aspires to develop.


With careful consideration of the community activities to develop, such as those presented by our team as mentioned above, we believe that Roots Cambodia can be as successful as PDA in Thailand, in achieving their vision of equipping Cambodian children with skills to get better jobs and improving local Cambodian communities.

Design Workshop Activities Segment

After setting some ground rules for the discussion, such as for participants to present their ideas more visually and not to internally strike off any ideas as bad ideas but to openly share them, and to consider the financial prudence of their ideas in creating this self-sustaining school, we began with the visioning activities of the workshop.


On this first day of the workshop, we called upon all participants to imagine what the future school can be like.


We reminded participants that they could think out of the box and provide ideas that go beyond the traditional confines of a conventional school model, and to factor in trends that may possibly shape the future of education. After approximately 30 mins, we got the various teams to share their ideas, This formed the vision model that Roots Cambodia could adopt which was a Learning Village that bridges the gap between locals and visitors, through Food.


Each team creating a vision board of their ideas



Workshop activities where each team presents their ideas


On day 2 of the workshop, following the development of the vision, we challenged each team to suggest as many key activities that could support this vision model. All in all, it was a fruitful 2 days of collective visioning, with our volunteers and the locals suggesting many exciting ideas for developing the site.


The points listed below are a summary of the ideas being put forth during the engagement workshop:


-A community centre, with health facilities, a library, a café, and IT facilities for online education

-A cross-cultural exchange destination with cultural immersion experiences such as homestays and community tours

-An outdoor adventure centre offering ‘high elements’ activities

-A piazza with event spaces for rent such as for weddings

-An agricultural and farming hub offering activities such as rice growing for tourists and farm-to-table restaurants

-A sustainability hub that acts as a test bed for green technologies and ventures, such as solar-powered buildings


This is a very promising start and we are looking forward to weaving these ideas into a feasible plan as part of our collective vision and recommendations of a local education enterprise system to the decision-makers of Roots Cambodia.


Departure

Time flew by quickly during our 3-day stay at Ruluos Commune with the packed schedule that we had.


We’re proud to declare the design workshop as an overwhelming success but, alas, it was time to say goodbye ☹


We would like to say a big thank you to Roots Organization Cambodia, Sarou, Nimol, Chamrouen, and locals from Kanhchor Village for their great hospitality!


It was a fruitful three-day stay in the village, and we’ve gained insights galore from the generous sharing by our volunteer contingent, local teachers, parents, and students.

We are grateful for their enthusiastic participation in the design workshop activities despite the language barrier so that we could better understand their needs and provide recommendations that are closely aligned with what they envision in their new school.


Enthusiastic participation by the local community


There were many highlights during this trip, from travelling on what the locals call ‘Chinese trucks’ as we toured the commune, to visiting the Roluos market, where we got to see what locals do for a livelihood, to understanding basic infrastructure needs the local children crave for, such as gender-specific toilets and ceiling fans but which we take for granted, to visiting the Lum Orng farm-to-table restaurant that we went to for dinner in Siem Reap…


Group photo with volunteers and members of the local community


The locals hitching a ride on a ‘Chinese Truck’


All these unique experiences are invaluable as they gave us a better picture of the challenges faced and opportunities that could be explored by Roots Cambodia in developing a local enterprise ecosystem that can help support the operations of a self-sustaining school.


Our team will take back all suggested ideas, deliberate over each and every one in great detail, and present our collective vision and recommendations to the decision-makers of Roots Cambodia, so do stay tuned for further updates!


Last but not least, we would like to thank all our volunteers for your time and wholehearted support of Roots Cambodia’s mission to create a self-sustaining school.


Having a light moment with our volunteers Zi Hua and Bhuvan


We do appreciate your effort and treasure the new friendships forged ❤️


Let’s continue working together to help nurture an environment where young minds can flourish, dreams can be realised, and futures can be shaped.


Together, we can use design as a tool to empower the community and create a brighter future for the children of Roluos Commune!

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