Situated opposite the Russian Market in Phnom Penh is Rajana. You could be forgiven for thinking it was just another shop trying to sell tourists the same stuff being spruiked in all the other shops, but you quickly discover that’s not the case.
Rajana was founded by Marie Hill and the Southeast Asia Outreach charity in 1995; initially set up to help young people from refugee camps in Thailand to make a living. It now employs over 30 artisans, has a number of shops in Cambodia and exports its goods throughout the world.
There are many reasons why Rajana is special. One reason – it pays its artisans a fair wage (well above the minimum wage). And that is important. That means its artisans can afford the costs of living, unlike many others in Cambodia.
Rajana not only pays a fair wage, it also encourages its artisans to diversify their skills in the areas of jewellery making, silk painting, card-making, administration and sewing. Employees are also offered training courses in management, leadership, marketing, computers, sewing, product development, reading and writing in Khmer, and also a year of free English lessons. A number of home-based artisans are also employed to allow them to maintain a good balance between family and home life.
Another reason Rajana stands out is its stunning Bombshell Jewellery range. The Bombshell Jewellery is crafted from old artillery shell casings that have been gathered up from around the Cambodian countryside and the Mekong River. The bombshells are left over remnants from the Pol Pot genocidal regime, where over two million Cambodians were killed. The artisans have transformed the symbolism of the bombshell from one of tragedy, into one of beauty and peace.
Using an acetylene torch, trained artisans’ cut rings from the cylindrical brass shells and then polish the edges smooth, after which beautiful leaf and dove motifs are hand-engraved into the metal with intricate Khmer patterns from Angkor Wat. After being cut and engraved, the rings are electroplated and shined and then sold in their stores and overseas.
Visiting Rajana’s Phnom Penh offices gave us the chance to watch their artisans working on new jewellery ranges. These beautiful, delicate pieces represent a country that has used the horror of its past to embrace its future. Beauty can be found in even the most ugly of places. Life is to be cherished and fought for.
When we wandered through the shop and handled the individually crafted jewellery we knew we were holding a piece of history. We knew that by simply purchasing Rajana’s Bombshell Jewellery, we were celebrating creative pursuits, shut down by Pol Pot. We were also supporting living wages and validating the importance of encouraging clear work pathways for people who may not have been afforded control over their own creative destiny without Rajana’s encouragement. We knew that Oxfam Australia was helping that happen.
Let’s just say that Daisy, Kate and myself purchased a few items. OK, more than a few items.
Guilt free shopping is the best kind of shopping.
This is the sixth in a series of posts about my recent trip to Cambodia as part of my work with Oxfam. For more information about the work Oxfam Australia is doing in the area of labour rights go to: https://www.oxfam.org.au/whos-making-your-clothes/.