One of the most common questions we receive at LanguageCorps is what kind of careers teaching English abroad can lead to. Many people decide to teach English in a foreign country as a gap year adventure, and then with the help of a unique, distinctive resume, go on to diverse careers in a variety of different fields.
One former teacher, Jacob Daniels, founded a fair trade fashion company called Cambodian Threads.
The company sells handmade, fair trade silk crafts produced by the Hengs, a family of artisans who work out of their home studio in the Island village of Prek BongKong, Cambodia.
Daniels and his staff then use proceeds from sales to fund educational development projects in Prek BongKong and other rural Cambodian villages.
The company was founded in 2009, while Daniels was teaching English in Cambodia through LanguageCorps. Daniels says, “I had been living and teaching in Cambodia for quite some time, and started to do a lot of thinking about ways I might be able to give back to the Cambodian community.”
Cambodia has struggled with poverty, geonocide, and political instability in the modern era. The Khmer Rouge decimated Cambodia in the mid 1970s, when more than 1 million innocent men, women and children died in one of the worst genocides of the 20th century. The country’s economy has struggled to recover, and it remains one of the poorest countries in Asia.
“I was teaching English as a second language in Phnom Penh, and came to realize that education is a necessary vehicle to promote change and alleviate poverty. That’s really where the idea for Cambodian Threads stemmed from.”
Daniels then spent his free time from teaching exploring the Cambodian countryside by motorcycle, looking for authentic fair trade crafts, and eventually stumbled upon the Heng family.
“It took me a while to find a truly fair trade product that fit in with our vision,” says Daniels. “I looked into a lot of different fashion accessories and handicrafts, and with the vast majority of them, it was very difficult if not impossible to tell who was making them, how the producers were treated, and where the product truly came from.”
The Fair Trade Federation lists nine principles that fair trade organizations must adhere to, including Supporting Safe and Empowering Working Conditions, Ensuring the Rights of Children and Respecting Cultural Identity. It was important to Daniels to find a product that adhered to those principles. He explains, “With the Heng family, we could see the weaving process from start to finish, and observe the relaxed working conditions under which the family operates. It was totally transparent, the family supported our goals, and we’ve had a great working relationship since day one.”
Cambodian Threads is in the process of becoming a member organization of the Fair Trade Federation, according to Daniels, and he hopes that a successful 2011 is just the beginning for the fledgling company. “We’re very excited and optimistic about the future of Cambodian Threads,” he says. “We’re receiving a lot of great feedback about the products and our business model, and sales continue to grow steadily. On the philanthropic end, we’ve progressed from basic school supply initiatives, to English language classes that we feel are having a real and lasting impact on the communities that we operate in. I think we’re all excited to see what the future holds for this project.”
You can check out Cambodian Threads line of fair trade scarves, ties and bags at http://www.cambodianthreads.com.