30 Ago Domlai Mon: a business provides a home
Emi & Eve have been working with a home working seamstress, Thearith Soun, for some time. She and her daughter Meimei make the dustbags for our clutches and silk pouches for our jewellery from a small home in south Phnom Penh. Thearith is a skilled tailor, and war and HIV survivor. She heads a small community of seamstresses with HIV in her community. Although given some orders from fair trade clients, they have all been struggling with a regular income, due to being ostracised at workshops and therefore having to rely on home based work.
She and her 20 something year old daughter Meimei, who is healthy and very bright, are highly regarded in the community. A year ago, a young girl called Nich Nich (13) was brought to them, a dishevelled skinny street rat covered in skin rashes. She had lived in a market off people’s kindness for 5 years, while struggling with the HIV condition that caused her aunt to reject her and usurp her parental home after her parents passed away. Her younger brother Phai was allowed to stay behind since he did not have HIV. So he was still of some use looking after the cows. A distant relative thought that Thearith could take care of the girl since she had some income and a sponsored house, but Thearith and Meimei were struggling to feed themselves, so after a while they sent her to a childrens’ home with a heavy heart.
When I heard about this, and that they all wanted to stay together as a family, a story unfolded that ended up somehow addressing my own personal desire for family and belonging. How can I deny a child a home when I was searching for that very thing myself? The only thing that stood in the way was a couple of dollars a day. It was a no brainer.
We needed legal papers. So an epic journey to Nich Nich’s small village followed, three hours drive north towards Siem Reap and back. There we met with distant relatives, the village chief and the community chief. The policeman who had brought her to Thearith, showed us his humble wooden stilt home and the reason why he could not take care of Nich himself: his mentally disabled daughter. We decided to buy the family’s monthly rice from them instead.
There were no birth certificates so we started there. They asked me for birth dates. And ages. I suddenly held papers that proved the existence of two people, who otherwise would fall through the cracks of a society still recovering from war and a chasm of other injustices. Next, the village chief got on the tiled floor of his house and wrote a letter under which thumb prints were placed by the distant relatives, confirming that they agreed to hand over responsibility of Nich Nich and Phai to Thearith. The same was done by the community head. And we were set.
Back home, Phai was brought in to his new home. A little sceptical at first, he agreed, provided that his sister would be joining him. However, getting Nich Nich out of the centre was a drama involving long emails with helpful NGOs, although the NGO holding her was incredibly obtuse. Finally she took matters into her own hands and ran away, to her chosen home.
Long story short, now the four of them are living together. It is a joy to come back to this humble home where so little is shared to gain so much. They are my family too.
Emi & Eve created Domlai Mon, (“precious mulberry leaf”, the enduring symbol of sustenance in Cambodia), to be able to care for the family needs of our artisans. Discover more about Domlai Mon and how you can support here.