From sacred flower to high-fashion!

6 March 2014 · Leave A Comment


Did you know that in Asia, when you join your hands together to greet people, you’re actually mimicking the 

shape of a lotus bud? Lotus has long been a powerful and revered symbol in Cambodia and throughout Asia. This aquatic plant rises above murky waters, and gives rise to the most beautiful flowers. Varying in colors depending on the variety, the sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) is used in a variety of ways: as part of religious rituals, it symbolizes purity and rebirth; and it can also be used in culinary preparation.

But perhaps one of the most unusual features of the sacred flower is that it can be turned into fabric which preserves the many amazing properties of the flower itself. When broken and pulled apart, the stem (rhizome) of the flower reveals a fine and delicate fiber which, when juxtaposed to others, combines together to produce a continuous fiber which can then be woven into fabric.

IMG_0541This ancient craft was most likely practiced throughout Southeast Asia, but it has survived unaltered in Myanmar where the communities living on the floating villages of Lake Inlé have preserved it. Traditionally, this fabric would be dyed in bright orange and its use would be restricted to the highest ranking monks.

Today, this ancient craft helps Southeast Asia’s poorest communities make a living by producing eco-textiles for the world’s high-end fashion. By connecting the world’s poorest with the world’s wealthiest, the lotus flower is empowering villagers.

Samatoa (‘Fair’ in Khmer) founder Mr. Awen Delaval has revived this ancient craft in Cambodia, near the ancient temples of Angkor. Today, the Lotus Farm welcomes tourists from all over the world to learn about this incredible fiber, and how it can help entire communities move out of poverty. Learn more about Samatoa’s work in this interview:

In 2014, Community First and Samatoa will be joining forces to develop and study the virtues of the plant in its aquatic environment, and how it can provide an all-organic and natural water filtration system. Today, you can visit this ancient craft being revived in Siem Reap City at the Lotus Farm by Samatoa, check them out on Facebook!


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Did you know that lacquer actually comes from a tree?

4 March 2014 · Leave A Comment

Today, we colloquially call lacquer anything shiny, while in reality lacquer is the processed sap of a tree (Gluta laccifera, Gluta usitata). It has been used for eons in the parts of the world where it’s endemic for a variety of uses. From coating baskets to water proofing them to creating works of arts, lacquer has helped Asian civilizations thrive for millennia, and today it helps connect the world as insulant in electronics.

In Cambodia, lacquer has been used for centuries, and is a key ingredient in the making of traditional crafts such as betel boxes, religious offering trays and ceremonial boxes. Many of those crafts, however, are on the decline and at risk of disappearing forever.

Due to its extraordinary properties such as extreme heat resistance and unparalleled electrical insulation, Cambodia used to export over 50 tons of lacquer to France for in a variety of industrial applications.

But today, with no plantations remaining and only a few trees having survived deforestation, the craft of lacquer is nearly extinct in Cambodia, and only a few changemakers are fighting to keep it alive.

Lacquer trees are primarily found in Kampong Thom Province, southeast of the temples of Angkor. The villages there used to thrive with lacquer-works, from the harvesting process to the crafting the objects to be lacquered.  But with no intermediary connecting the villagers with the relevant markets (such as high end art work), and with the destruction of plantations (during the time of the Khmer Rouge?), villagers no longer enjoy the benefits of large scale lacquer works. .


A few weeks ago, the Community First team set out to investigate what had happened to the most important player in the value chain of lacquer: the tree bleeder. Tree bleeders would make incisions in the tree, allowing for the sap to flow, and then harvest it i

n handmade bamboo canisters. On that occasion, we met with Ta Ly who is the only bleeder left in his village practicing this ancient craft. He explained to us that while he had no buyer, he would rather be out and about practicing his craft rather than staying home or seeking labor far away from his village. It is important to note that the tree does not die in the harvesting process, and is given time to regenerate between collections.

Today, Community First is teaming up with Lacquer Master Eric Stocker of Angkor Artworks in Siem Reap to help the villagers make a living from this craft. In what has become a landmark deal for the villagers, we were able to guarantee the purchase of 440 pounds of lacquer on a yearly basis, which will provide families with a stable source of income for the first time in decades! Mr. Eric Stocker is a world renowned Lacquer Master who has been working in Cambodia to revive this ancient craft since 1998.

He was also one of the founding experts brought in by the European Commission to develop the highly successful Artisans d’Angkor, an arts & crafts training program that has now become a profitable company. Watch his video to see him in action.

Posted in: News

What we learned: Human Rights Day, 64th Anniversary

11 December 2012 · 1 Comment

Thanks to Mayor Bill Bogaard and the United Nations Association of Pasadena & Foothill, the cause of ‘waterless farmers of Sen Sok’ was presented to the Pasadena Community.

As part of the commemoration of the 64th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in order to introduce ‘water’ as the incoming theme, the event focused on the human impact of water.

With special thanks to Hadiara Diallo for presenting the “Wells Bring Hope Project” working in West Africa. Hadiara shared her own experience from the field, and the story of how Gil Garcetti was moved by how much a difference could be made with water.

The event highlighted the fact that while Cambodia and West Africa may be two very different places, the challenges and opportunities relating to water remain the same and their impact on people’s lives remains just as crucial.

Water as a human right? While the actual declaration does not contain any specific to reference to access to water as a fundamental right, the United Nations has emphasized its importance towards the achievement of human rights, everywhere.

Community First also extend our most sincere thanks to Pasadena Police Chief Philip L. Sanchez for his continued support of international outreach in the community through the United Nations Association (UNA); to Mrs. Rhonda Stone of City Hall ; and to Sonia Amin from UNA PAsadena & Foothill Chapter.

 (Picture above, from left to right: Pasadena Police Chief Philip L. Sanchez, Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard and CFI Executive Director Pierre H. Mainguy, photo credit: Sonia Amin, United Nations Association Pasadena & Foothill Chapter)

Posted in: Events, News