After a year of COVID-19 here in the US, we can begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel. As vaccination rates continue to increase and infection rates decrease, a real sense of optimism is felt by many. In Cambodia however, the future may not be quite so bright as cases continue to rise and vaccinations are still limited.
Recently, we have been receiving updates from our partners in Cambodia that they are increasingly worried about the future of their artisans. Without orders coming in due to decreases in sales by various global partners, they fear jobs will be lost leading to an uncertain future for so many of the already vulnerable people they support. We have heard this over and over as the COVID numbers spike drastically once again in Phnom Penh and throughout the country.
Mask sales that kept us all going through 2020 have slowed considerably and sales of the products they typically produce for Malia and many others have not quite returned to pre-pandemic levels.
We at Malia are doing our best to continue to nourish relationships with our cherished customers while reaching out to potential new partners and customers here in the States. The pivot is real, and we are also dreaming up new ways to innovate and new products to create.
In order to update you all on how things are going on the ground in Cambodia, we asked our partners to answer a few questions. Their answers provide an honest look into how COVID-19 has affected their lives, as well as a hopeful outlook for the future and, like us, a deep appreciation for our continued partnership.
Interview questions and answers for partners in Cambodia (edited for clarity):
1. What is life been like since the pandemic started? What is life like now?
Anak: It has not been easy to try to keep everyone employed but we have done so together with your strong support. We initially survived by switching to producing cotton facemasks. We also started to manage work from distance. Some of my team started to work from home while earning a similar income that decreased some expenses. However food prices have increased which requires more income spent on necessities compared to before the pandemic. The situation is getting more difficult now with the third wave and rising COVID-19 cases but we maintain hope that it will get better.
Yek: Life is on the down side. At the end of last year we closed our clothing store, as it is based on tourism. We were able to retain 20 staff and continue to provide income so they can support themselves and their families. As you know, in Cambodia we have no government financial support. We continue to try and stay positive however. We are learning to live with COVID and the current increase in cases. We try to take good care of ourselves, our families, and care for each other, especially at our work place.
Thanan: Life since the pandemic started has been very difficult. The economic down turn has greatly affected our business. We closed our main store, as there are no tourists. People working in the community are suffering. It is a difficult situation with little to no income and people feeling stressed and unsafe.
2. What are your biggest worries/struggles moving forward?
Anak: My biggest worry and struggle is the lack of work and orders coming in to distribute to our artisans. It greatly affects their family’s income, especially the polio producer group. They do not have other income, only from our orders.
Yek: Our biggest worries are not enough work to retain the employment for our artisans.
Thanan: I am concerned that the situation of COVID-19 will stay longer and continue to have the greatest impact on unemployed producers with little access to food and education for their children. Also women play an important role in the family to protect their safety and well being al of the children and other vulnerable family and community members.
3. What are some positive things that have happened?
Anak: One positive thing that has happened is that we are flexible to make the products that can keep our workers employed. Actually, we feel so blessed to have such a strong partnership with you and your team. It has not been easy to try to keep all in employment, but we have done so together with your strong support and are finding a way to survive.
Yek: We managed to get enough work to keep 20 people employed last year and this year we increase to 25people.
Thanan: In 2020 we survived by producing orders for Malia Designs. The production of the small coin purse and face masks kept our artisans employed. Without Malia Design as partner, and the support from their customers in the USA, our producers would have no work. We are so grateful that Malia Designs and the customers in the USA continue to support us especially through these difficult times.
4. How has COVID affected the artisans? Can you share specific examples?
Anak: COVID has affected our artisans greatly. The decrease in orders directly affects income earned. Many families struggle to bring in enough income. Many family members have lost their jobs so the burden is heavier for them, and for us, as we are working like a family.
Yek: The current situation in Phnom Penh/Cambodia with the new COVID-19 cases and restrictions is difficult. Communal transmission is increasing. Some producers are subjected to quarantine and increasingly multiple areas of Phnom Penh have been looked down. Those affected must take off of work for at least 2 weeks. These factors have the potential to slow down our workflow. Our greatest worry is that the whole city will be shut down due to the spike in cases.
Thanan: COVID-19 has had a huge impact on our artisans. We are all women with disabilities and need to earn money by sewing skills, weaving and hand dying material to make our products. Most of which are exported or purchased by foreign tourists. COVID continues to affect family life, food and the safety of our vulnerable artisans.
5. How can we/our customers help?
Response from all: Please continue to place orders and purchase our products so that we can support our artisans and their families!
We are in awe of the resiliency and grace of our artisan partners. They are incredibly motivated and believe in themselves and each other and the promise that all deserve the opportunity for dignified work and fair wages. We here at Malia will continue to support them and the necessary and important work they do. We thank you, our cherished customers and support system for your continued support and being on this journey with us!
From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for continuing to “CARRY THE CAUSE” with us!
Lucia and Lia