The members of the Watthan Artisans Cooperative like to say they focus on their abilities, not their disabilities.

The treacherous period under the control of the Communist Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot in the late 1970s left the country’s economy teetering. Pol Pot’s infamous ‘killing fields’ were mass graves. The number of Cambodians who died there together with those who succumbed to starvation and disease is estimated at between 1.7 million and 2.5 million. Considering its then population of eight million, Pol Pot’s cleansing programs of intellectuals and ethnic minorities was nothing short of brutal.

This artisans’ cooperative brings together some of those who suffered the after effects.

Bearing injuries from landmines, bombs or having suffered from polio, deafness or psychological scars, the members of the Watthan cooperative came together in 2004 to produce handicrafts. They were supported by an NGO which trained them to work with cotton, locally produced silk, reclaimed hardwood or recycled materials.

As one of its members, Suphereac explains, “the NGO was closed and we (the cooperative) took the place of the NGO”. It gives work and ownership to now trained and talented craftsmen who might otherwise find it difficult to work. And it pays them based on their abilities, not their disabilities.

This story is an IYC Yearbook feature: