“Phka Doung means coconut trees of hope,” says Vichra as she begins introducing to me the enterprise she started in November 2019. She grew up inspired by her father who created jobs for so many people in her village in his lifetime. When he passed on and people lost their job, Vichra saw many villagers having to leave for Thailand to work as fishermen. They left their family behind and found themselves a new place where they are often unsupported. Some almost finished high school but could not complete it. “People don’t value education because money is so important in a poor daily living.” Feeling hopeless was a familiar sentiment.
With the help of a mentor from Singapore who fan the flame of her passion to create change, Vichra wanted to make a hopeful future possible not just for her family but also for others in her village and for Cambodia. “I want to inspire people to finish at least until high school and get higher education if possible.” She found some hope in the versatile coconut that is abundantly available in the villages. If people can make good livelihood with resources available in the village then, they don’t need to leave the support of their family and community and abandon their education in order to sustain themselves.
Motivated by this mission, Vichra did some research on the benefits of coconuts and the different ways they can be used. She went for a training on the technical aspect of seed oil processing organized by German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ). In total, she dedicated 3 years to perfecting the process of making premium coconut oil using only resources from the villages. Phka Doung engages a ‘collector man’ to buy and gather coconuts from the villages and builds a community around processing and packing the coconut products. With her family’s help, Vichra rolls up her sleeve everyday doing everything from cleaning to sale and bookkeeping.
I expressed admiration of her fighting spirit while interviewing her, and she was very open in sharing that has not been an easy journey. “I experience trauma with speaking,” she shared. “It’s challenging to present and put yourself out there to get support from angel investors… and the government. I feel frustrated sometimes.” But she keeps going, knowing it is necessary to keep the business sustainable and maintain cashflow. Even in the hard-hitting effects of COVID on labour, cost and sales, her focus and resilience shone through. She could have bought the coconuts from a cheaper place but she was clear on her purpose to prioritise her impact on local villages. “I am proud to say that Phka Doung has created social impact from the beginning.” I can see how this social impact continues to ground her every day, making all the challenges worthwhile.
“So, what is your dream for Phka Doung?” She smiled, “I love this question! My dream is to expand and create more impact. I want to register the business and build my team. We really try hard for this country and sometimes it can feel hopeless. But this business I do from my heart because I want to make a small change in Cambodia.”