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Anne-Marie Rhodes: Making a Difference in South East Asia

Image: Anne-Marie Rhodes in South East Asia

My travels so far have taken me through Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Equador up to California then across to Laos, Vietnam, Shanghai and Cambodia. I have another year in Cambodia to complete then hope to go onto India, Tibet, Borneo etc. As many places as possible!

I am living in Phnom Penh. I have been here for 11 months now teaching in the mornings and (originally) volunteering with a project called 'Funky Junk Recycled' in the afternoons. The volunteering after nine months ended up turning paid as the lady I was working with, (Maria who was completing her Masters at Leeds Met in Responsible Tourism) left and so I took her position and also helped out on the travel side with an organisation called Carpe Diem.

I ended up volunteering with Funky Junk because of keeping in touch with Geoff Cox who a group of us did an assignment with about a social enterprise hotel during my degree. It will be my first time home at the end of this month [July 2010] for six weeks after two and half years of travelling and teaching in Vietnam, Cambodia and China and also backpacking up through South America so I am really excited to see my friends and family again.

I will be returning back to Cambodia for another year to carry on teahing after my holiday home and then hope to go onto India.


The picture (above) where I am sat in the jungle was taken in Laos in Luang Nam tha in the north. The other is from when I stayed with Mrs Vandara and her family for six weeks and wrote the English for a website for the guesthouses that she owns. After two years they emailed me to let me know that the website had finally been put together and after teaching for two and a bit years it made me smile as I can see so many mistakes in the language used. Here is the website i helped make with them:

Click here for Mrs Vandara's web site

My travels so far have taken me through Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Equador up to California then across to Laos, Vietnam, shanghai and Cambodia. I have another year in Cambodia to complete then hope to go onto India, Tibet, Borneo etc. As many places as possible!


The project that i am working on here in Cambodia is called FunkyJunk Recycled. Here is some info about the project:

How was this project initiated?

FunkyJunk Recycled was founded by Carpe Diem Travel, a social enterprise tour operator, created by an English/Dutch couple as a direct result of working as volunteers in Cambodia in 2000 and seeing how the legacy of the Khmer Rouge genocide had left many without any source of income or belief in themselves. Their aim was twofold: to share with the outside world the places they had seen, the people they had met - and use responsible tourism as a means of helping local people to lift themselves out of poverty and create their own destinies.

During their time living in the country and taking visitors to see its many sights, they became very much aware of the extent of plastic bag litter and wondered how they could do something about it. Through talking to local people they learned that other litter, such as plastic bottles and tin cans, could be sold to recycling companies, but that no such facility existed for bags. So they decided to start their own.

The aim was to establish a self-sustaining operation, where trash pickers could get compensation for plastic bags and those bags could then be made into resaleable items. A key consideration was technology - by nature of the Cambodian environment, the production process needed to be relatively low-tech and capable of being learned by previously unskilled people. Another key consideration was project management - in order to attract overseas buyers, consistent high quality of finished goods is essential.

How does the project benefit the community and/or the environment?

So far, more than 50,000 dirty, discarded plastic bags have been reclaimed from streets and fields, cleaned and made into products.

FunkyJunk is formally registered as a Community Interest Company (CIC) in the UK, to encourage social investors and ensure centralised financial transparency for what will ultimately become a multi-country operation. A CIC's assets are locked, and it is legally required to reinvest a minimum of 65% of its profits back into the communities it serves.

FunkyJunk's aim is to replicate the existing centre in as many other locations as possible - not just in Cambodia, but in other destinations that have a rubbish problem (which I think makes all of them!). These centres, as now, will be created in partnership with a local NGO, who can apply to join the group. Every partner has a seat on the "partnership panel" and will receive a share of the profits dedicated for community development.

As Funkyjunk grows, its aim is to offer those who show aptitude (even at bag cleaning) the opportunity to visit other centres and share their skills - giving them the chance to travel and learn from other cultures.

FunkyJunk has been established with a social business model that is combining 3 important things: a fair trade product that is also of high-end consumer quality; a proactive improvement of living environments targeting one of the biggest scourges of modern day living; and a centralised methodology that can be easily, cheaply and consistently replicated almost anywhere.

The success of a triple-bottom-line company depends on its ability to stay true to all the "3Ps" (people, profit and planet). A great deal of thought and planning has gone into the planning and structuring of FunkyJunk to ensure that all 3 of these goals can be consistently met whilst facilitating rapid expansion. The brand has intentionally been positioned to be both trendy and "funky", but with a clear story attached to it, and buyers understand exactly what their purchase is achieving.

Buyers have been coming not from just the "fair trade" world, but also from stylish, boutique outlets. People are buying FunkyJunk products not "just" because they are made of recycled products, but because they look great in their homes.

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