By Emma Ehrenthal Naropa Art Therapy Master Student

While diving deeper into preparation for our service learning trip to Cambodia I have been thinking a lot about how my actions here in the United States effect Cambodia.  Currently, Cambodian garment workers who were protesting for higher wages to meet reasonable cost of living expenses were met with violence on January 3rd, 2014.  Security opened fire on peaceful protesters, killing five and injuring many more.  (IPSNEWS)

It brings up some familiar issues, countries outsourcing labor to the cheapest factory they can find, while not feeling connected or responsible to the people working for them.  The United States is this country. We are the ones buying these products and disconnecting from the people who make them.  As a student traveling to Cambodia for my service learning trip I grapple with this feeling of consumer guilt.  I can see the connections and impact I have on supporting the need for women to work in the sex trafficking industry.  The majority of garment workers are women, and if they cannot support themselves, much less their families with their wages, their options for careers are limited.  

It is a huge problem that is far away from us, but we can make a positive impact from the Untied States by making small changes in our daily lives.  Supporting companies that are providing workers with fair wages and safe working environments not only means your money is going to them, but your support is helping to raise the bar for workers rights throughout the world.  I wanted to look at companies who are using fair trade ethics to create meaningful jobs in Cambodia.

Daughter’s of Cambodia is creating alternative ways for woman to make a sustainable living in Cambodia outside of the sex industry.  They provide women with career building opportunities including skill building classes, counseling services, and medical treatment. If you are in Cambodia you can visit their shop, hotel, spa, and café, but you can also support them from the United States by buying their products from Better Way Imports

 Cambodian Threads is an organization creating sustainable job opportunities for Cambodians, and bringing the products over to the United States so that we can support them from our home.  They are raising the bar for working environments in Cambodia and supporting education by donating proceeds to local schools.

Rajana is working to provide Cambodian artisans fair wages and healthy working environments.  By developing professional opportunities for these workers to market themselves Rajana is making it possible for Cambodians to lead successful careers in the handicraft market.

When I heard about people being treated inhumanely I used to disconnect and shut down, it felt like too terrible and large of a problem for me to handle.  But now I am learning to face these parts of our world and see my own impact.  I see hope now, knowing that I can be more aware of my actions.  When I go to the store and buy fair trade items I feel accomplished, I know I am spending an extra few dollars to make a significant difference for our global community.  

2 thoughts on “

  1. This topic is one that is near and dear to my heart. Textiles, being one of the oldest ‘art forms’ have been an ancient and rich part of our history for women, and all of humanity. Textiles and clothing were sacred, necessary to life! Turn the clock about 40,000 years later we have the fashion industry, which seems so corrupt to me; to have slave labor factories producing cheap, flimsy garments that go out of style in a season. However, I find myself shopping at these places totally cut of from my true beliefs and values. Why? Convenience? Maybe it’s easier to check out then pay attention? I remember one of my most influential experiences in India was when I went to a clothing market and saw a shirt that had a .99 cent tag from SAVERS! I saw that the shirt was made in India, which means it was made, shipped to the United States, worn, and then shipped back to India! It made me think about how much that shirt cost in its life- the amount of water, gas, and other environmental resources that were needed in that process. Wow. I think about Joanna Macy and her writing on the ‘three realities of our time’ (
    1. Business as usual- there is no need to change what’s happening on our planet, because nothing is wrong!
    2. The great unravelling- everything on our planet is terrible, there is nothing I can do to fix it, we all may as well…… Curl up into a ball and cry! (I often fall into this category)
    3. The great turning- I cannot possibly sum this one up, so I will use Joanna’s wise words. She says the great turning is: ” Involving the emergence of new and creative human responses, it is about the epochal transition from an industrial society committed to economic growth to a life-sustaining society committed to the healing and recovery of our world”. To me, this is what the NCAS-I team strives for in the work. Let this be a reminder that it’s ok that there is something wrong, and let’s look at it and do something about it!

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