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We have a lot of exciting aquaponics projects at work here in Cambodia. We have experimental grow beds at the Tuk Vil farm, where we are testing KEM (Khmer Effective Microorganisms) in sustainable aquaponics systems to see how their presence alters the rate of growth of plants. The grow beds are all identical in their set up: they each have a cement pot of about 40 fish underneath, which feeds water in a circuit that flows from the container up to the bed itself where the seeds are planted in gravel.


Gravel is the first growing medium we used as an alternate for soil. Since gravel does not absorb water, it improves the flow of the system while allowing plants to take in more water for themselves. However, it is expensive to buy and transport gravel, making this option less accessible for villagers who typically live on less than one dollar per day. Since our aquaponics systems are meant to act as interventions for this population, other, more accessible and sustainable mediums became necessary to find. Luckily, we have recently had a breakthrough here at Community First in the discovery of a new growing medium that is locally available in abundant quantities and for almost no cost. It also already exists in all the villages that we are working in. This new growing medium is rice husk.


Rice husk, the exterior to rice, is the outermost layer of the rice paddy grain, and it is separated from the rice husk in the milling process. Cambodia is one of the largest exporters of rice in the world, meaning that this resource is already in the villagers’ hands, quite literally. Once it is dried out it can be used as fertilizer, but also as a growing medium in and of itself. Our own experiments using aquaponics systems with the rice husk instead of gravel have shown that plants grow considerably faster in the rice husk than in either gravel or soil. Rice husk barely absorbs any water, nor does it rot. This means it does not have to be replaced often, and water can filter through the rice husk to the plants’ roots more efficiently. This also means that water does not have to be brought through the system as often, which saves both water and electricity.


We are currently conducting growing experiments at the Community First lab, growing tomatoes and pineapple in the rice husk medium. In just a few weeks, we have watched tomato vines grow several inches; this is a much faster rate than observed in both gravel and soil grow beds. Combined with the KEM that we are currently testing at Tuk Vil, we hope to see great improvements in growing speed and therefore crop yield, by using only all natural enhancing methods. Keep on the lookout for more formal updates about our breakthroughs and findings coming soon!

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Community First’s goal is to create local solutions to the global problems of poverty by connecting changemakers from throughout the world. Meet the students of California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) and how they’re doing their part in turning the challenges of poverty into academic opportunities and professional achievements.

The project was started in late 2014 as a graduate engineering project in the Mechanical Engineering lab under Professor Sam Landsberger. The objective is to build a self-sustaining one-tank aquaponics system at CSULA. The experience gained on this project will be very valuable to Community First as they develop aquaponics solutions in rural Cambodia.  The formal project kick-off included from left to right: Professor Sam Landsberger, Robert Alvarez, Robert Shalgian, Christopher Carlo, Meenu Singh, Measrainsey Meng (all project members), Thomas Hurst (external advisor) and Victoria Hurst (Donegee Media).

Project kick off at CSULA

The team members are bringing expertise in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering as well as excellent software skills. The system they are building is based on a Constant Height One Pump (CHOP) design using an Intermediary Bulk Container (IBC). Two workstreams are progressing in parallel: The fish tank and grow bed are being assembled with the piping and pump system. The sensors are being sourced, tested and integrated to the Arduino based control system. A solar panel system will later be added to the system.

Team & Arduino Controller

From right to left: Measrainsy Meng, Christopher Carlo, Robert Shalgian, Robert Alvarez, Meenu Singh and external adviser JP Mainguy.

The ability to monitor continuously the state of the aquaponics system is a key objective of this project. The team is integrating sensors to measure the following parameters: Water temperature, water level, water pH, dissolved oxygen, ammonia. The Arduino controller will display the parameters of each sensor and allow a user to monitor easily the status of the aquaponics system (the initial breadboard is shown on the picture).

The Los Angeles Arboretum has expressed interest in this project and we are very excited about building an aquaponics demonstrator for the public. The CSULA team is working with them to duplicate their system in the vegetable garden area of the Arboretum. It will be accessible to the visitors interested in home gardening and aquaponics. Here is the location where the unit will be installed:

Team at LA Arboretum

From right to left: Pierre Mainguy (Community First, President), Richard Schulhof (LA Arboretum, CEO), Robert Alvarez (CSULA), Measrainsey Meng (CSULA), Tim Phillips (LA Arboretum).

This project is scheduled to continue through CSULA winter and spring semesters.

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We are connecting changemakers to create local solutions to the global problems of poverty…

…in order to help forgotten communities lift themselves out of poverty.

Rural Cambodia Food Security Agriculture Farming Gardening 6Thanks to the Pasadena Rotary, we are able to provide basic needs for the families of Sen Sok. Resources are no longer so scarce that families have to break apart to seek financial opportunities to provide for their families basic necessities. Since 2009 Community First has been working with these families of Sen Sok to help develop a plan to grow their community, and as a result, they are able to build a brighter future together.

We are happy to announce that Community First has received a generation donation of 430 acres of land. We were connected with a professional wild cat trainer who has land and a love for Cambodia. Originally he came to Cambodia to work on a movie project and during his time he fell in love, both with the land, and his wife, an Apsara dancer. Believing in the mission of Community First, he officially offered the land in order to create an aquaponics school for Cambodian farmers to reinvigorate the community and to establish a hub of ancient Khmer craftsmanship like Lacquer production.

We are helping reinvigorate traditional Khmer crafts to reestablish an ancient cultural tradition


Meet Ta Ly, he is one of the very few remaining lacquer farmers left in Cambodia and his skills can help his entire village. Often, talented craftsmen are isolated from monetary capital and markets to sell their goods, but with our next stage of plans, we hope to establish Cambodia as a major competitor in the high value lacquer market. Lacquer has a long tradition in Cambodia and we are happy to announce that we have teamed up with Master Lacquerer Eric Stocker to help us revive high value Lacquer and reestablish this part of Ta Ly’s heritage and culture.
Through the connections and partnerships that we’ve establish we will be able to make change, together.

Here at Community First we’ve been having a busy couple of months. We’ve reached out and made amazing strides and partnerships. We have partnered with the Ministry of Agriculture of Cambodia and the APSARA Authority! And right now, our educational network is expanding and we are discussing a potential partnership with another University that is the forefront of social change mobilized by students–the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

With our current partnership at California State University, Los Angeles we have a team of students who are creating an aquaponics based solution for those who depend on agriculture for economic survival. 80% of Cambodians live off of farming and Khun (pictures to the left) is one of those Cambodian farmers. The team at CSULA is working hard to create a solution so that farmers like Khun can combat soil and water depletion–a problem that is not just facing Cambodia, but the entire world.

We are connecting changemakers to work together to find holistic solutions to world poverty.

We would like to say Thank You! to everyone who came to our annual party. We would especially like to thank the Khmer Arts Academy who graced us with a wonderful classical Cambodian dance performance. (See pictures below! Thanks to DonegeeMedia for covering the event) All of us at Community First are incredibly honored for the presence of so many passionate people who are excited for the work we are doing in Cambodia. Without your energy and passion, all of our work would not be possible.


If you’d like to see the entire gallery of the event click here.

We would especially like to give a big shout out to the Rotary Club of Sierra Madre and Compassionate Rescue, a Sierra Madre nonprofit organization, who graciously donated to Community First to ensure that our efforts in Sen Sok can continue.


Keep up to date by liking our facebook . Make sure you keep connected to our blog to get the latest information about our continued work abroad.

Be The Change You Wish To See.

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Introduction to Cambodia’s inland fisheries

The objective of Community First aquaponics project is to provide individual families without resources the means of farming fish sustainably for their own consumption and for sale on the market. Although we intend to develop solutions applicable in any country, it is important to understand the local environment. Here is what we found during our initial investigation in Cambodia.

Cambodian inland fisheries are among the world’s largest and most diverse, accounting for about 12% of the country GDP. The Tonle Sap provides 400,000 tons of fish per year, valued at about $300M [1]. Today, fish and fisheries are central to the life of the country, just as it was in the ancient Khmer empire.

The lower mekong basin provides the ideal environment for fish to grow at an accelerated rate during the rain season. Cambodians celebrate the water festival (Bon Om Teuk) during the full moon of October or November, when the flow of Tonle Sap reverses its course to flow north into the great lake. This marks the beginning of the fishing season. The next three months are crucial as people must catch, preserve and store fish for the dry season. Fish is a major part of the Cambodian diet with an average consumption of about 2kg per person per month representing about 6,300 riels per person per month. However the catch fluctuates with the seasons. The catch of the Tonle Sap dai fishery in 2003/2004 was about half of that in 2002/2003, so the price of the most common fish, trey riel, rose more than threefold.

At the beginning of the rain season, when the fish swim upstream into the flooded plain of central Cambodia, they naturally settle in the rice fields. In addition to fish, these fields are home to a large number of other animal species such as crabs, shrimps, clams, snails and insects. Traditional rice farming incorporates fish in their production.

Rice fields occupy about 23,000 km2 in Cambodia, 83% of which is rained wet-season lowland rice, allowing settled agriculture because blue-green algae grow in the flooded paddies and fix atmospheric nitrogen, which then becomes available as nutrient for the rice: thus repeated cropping doesn’t rapidly depletes the soil of this primary nutrient. Fish and other aquatic animals contribute to the fertilization of the fields: they remain in small ponds in the dry season, spawn during the rainy season and fry or larvae colonize adjacent paddies. Brood stock were traditionally maintained by farmers (Heckman, 1979). Fish fry are also carried into rice fields when they are flooded by or connected to natural river systems.

In rice field fisheries it has been estimated that up to 100 kilos of animal protein are produced per hectare and per year, amounting to about 40% of the value of the rice produced (Guttman, 1999). Systems for rice-fish culture have been developed and rained lowland and irrigated rice ecosystems offer potential for future improvements in yield (Gregory, 1997). However, increased use of fertilizers and pesticides is damaging the environment of rice fisheries. In addition, dykes and floodgates used to control water flows may isolate rice fields from natural waterways, preventing fish colonization and reducing the input of nutrient-rich silt.

Community First - Aquaponics and Fish Farming in Cambodia  - Rice Fields

Fishery production depends on a healthy environment. Today the lower Mekong basin is subjected to a number of stress factors. Catches of the larger species have declined and, as more and more people fish each year with increasingly efficient gear, there are signs of over-fishing of even the smallest species. The rain fed rice fields offer a less favorable environment as it used to due to the combined impact of controlled waterways and usage of fertilizers and pesticides. As Cambodia develops, infrastructure buildup and population growth will impact traditional rice fish farming. Several programs are addressing these issues around the Tonle Sap by Cambodia’s Fisheries Administration (FiA) which intends to establish 1200 Community Fish Refuges (CFRs) in 75% of all communes by 2019 [2], [3].

Women play an important role in inland fisheries and are involved, with other family members in local fishing, processing and marketing. Women dominate marketing of fish products throughout the country. Khay and Hortle (2004) found that 90% of sellers in fish markets in Phnom Penh’s 29 main fish markets are women. Small markets are the primary supplier of fish to cities or towns, providing significant employment opportunities for women in and environment where they can manage their own businesses.

Fresh Water Fish Species:

The lower Mekong basin has a great variety of fish of all sizes. The most common is the trey riel (cirrhinus lobatus, cirrhinus siamensis). Now this small fish represents about 50% of the catch in the Tonle Sap. The smallest fish of all is the rice fish (oryzias mekongensis) which is 2cm or less. There are two types of fish in Cambodian rivers and lakes: White fish need clearer water and although they migrate inland to the flooded plains during the rain season, they swim back with the current to the large rivers at the beginning of the dry season. Black fish on the other hand, can sustain drought an stay on the floodplain. They can tolerate the acidic waters due to the vegetation decomposition.

Black fish used in aquaculture:

  • Striped snakehead (channa striata, trey roh)
  • Giant snakehead (channa micropeltes, trey chhdao)
  • Walking catfish (clarias batrachus, trey andaing)

White fish used in aquaculture:

  • Cat fish (pangasius hypophtalmus, trey chhlang)
  • Red-tailed tinfoil (barbonymus altus, trey kahe)
  • Black spot catfish (pangasius larnaudii, trey pour)

Fish species from abroad have been introduced in Cambodian aquaculture such as the Tilapia (oreochromis niloticus).

Fish fry is produced by 13 government hatcheries which sell in bulk to middlemen for use in aquaculture. Carnivore snakeheads which have a high commercial value must be fed with live fry and it takes 5 kgs of fry to produce 1 kg of fish product. Other fish fed on dried pellets are more affordable to raise since dried fish is commonly available in Cambodia at a very moderate price.

Aquaponics Fish Farming

Rice is not the only crop which can be combined with fish farming. The ancient Khmer traditions of growing vegetables along with fish is still in use today and Community First went to two villages in the suburbs of Phnom Penh to find out. We went to Tompung Boeung where vegetables are grown on floating beds in small lakes which also contain fish ponds delimited by fishing nets. The plants clean the water for the fish which in turn provide the nutrients to the plants, both benefiting from each other. The vegetables and the fish produced are sold to the local markets in Phnom Penh. The picture shows the production of basil in another village called Thnaot Chrum. Vegetable grown in the floating beds we visited were morning glory, water lilies and basil.

Community First - Aquaponics and Fish Farming in Cambodia -FloatingGardens

The village chief told Community First about the floating beds, saying that he and his parents before him had always practiced this culture. He remembered his grandmother telling the kids the legend of old ancestor Ta Pon which used to come to the market with his carrying stick loaded with fish and vegetables from his small pond and garden (Ta Pon means “old carrier” in Khmer). The villagers were surprised to always see him bringing such bounty to the market, while they had to walk long distances and work hard to produce as much. They decided to learn from him and this is how the floating gardens were created. It is likely that the floating gardens have been at the center of the Angkorian economy, providing a balanced diet of vegetable and fish to the large population of the Khmer empire.

Community First - Aquaponics and Fish Farming in Cambodia -VillageChief

Unfortunately, the floating gardens around Phnom Penh are under threat as the city is growing fast. When we visited Tompung Boeung, it was already surrounded by bulldozers and trucks and may disappear within a year or so to make way to a new residential area.

The technique described above is known as aquaponics, where fish and plants are grown in the same symbiotic environment: fish eat food and produce waste (mainly ammonia), which is degraded into nitrates by naturally growing bacteria, which are pumped out of the fish tank into the grow bed plants. The control of this “nitrogen cycle” is made possible by new technologies, now widely available and affordable. Nowadays aquaponics systems can be very compact and are suitable for a single family.

A basic aquaponics system consists of a fish tank, a grow bed with plants, and a water pump. Air pumps and bio/mechanical filtration components as well as sensors and controls ensure the correct balance of water in the system. Community First is working with professor Sam Landsberger and his team from CSU Los Angeles to develop a pilot suitable for use in developing countries.

Community First - Aquaponics and Fish Farming in Cambodia  -CSULAPilot

Aquaponics fish farming is well suited to the needs of rural communities in Cambodia:

  1. Family-size units can be installed at home
  2. It is a complement to other fishing activities, not a replacement
  3. The amount of training required is moderate
  4. The system can be attended by women and other family members
  5. It supplies additional fish for family consumption or for sale
  6. It supplies vegetables for family consumption or for sale
  7. Women can sell fish and vegetables through their existing commercial network
  8. Higher value fish and vegetables can be added to the mix as needed
  9. It provides an additional source of income which is sustainable over time
  10. It promotes all natural farming, without pesticides and fertilizers

Community First has identified aquaponics as one of their lead initiatives to sustainable rural development in Cambodia and elsewhere in the world. Two projects will be completed in Cambodia in 2014: in the Siem Reap Lotus Farm and in Bakong in collaboration with the Apsara Authority.


[1] Hortle et al. An Introduction to Cambodia’s Inland Fisheries, Mekong Development Series No 4, Nov 2004. EFEO-SR 597 MRL, ISSN 1680-4023

[2] TCO – Rice Field Fisheries Enhancement Project http://tcocambodia.org/photo-gallery/rice-field-fisheries-enhancement-project-2012/

[3] WorldFish – Rice Field Fisheries Enhancement Project.http://www.worldfishcenter.org/ongoing-projects/more-fish-cambodias-rice-fields#.U8Dz5Y0kFe4

How you can help


  • $5 will fund a gardener’s seed stock
  • $10 will fund a gardener’s fish stock
  • $750 will help a family start an aquaponic farm which will help them fund medical expenses and reclaim their health


  • If you find this article and our cause interesting, please help us spread the word and further our mission by sharing it with the links below!
  • For more information on Samatoa, check out their website or like them on Facebook.

Get Involved

  • The month of August 2014 marks the beginning of our Aquaponics builds. We have three builds coming up in Siem Reap, one at Samatoa, one at the APSARA Authority, and the final one will be a chinampa style build at Golden Silk.
  • If you have any knowledge of the use of lotus in an aquaponics set-up, chinampa-style aquaponics, or are simply interested in tracking our progress and results, sign up for The Exchange, our nonprofit social networking platform, and share your insight or comments!


Visit to Eric and Thierry Stocker in Siem Reap

A nice villa in a small street of Siem Reap is where Angkor Artwork makes the most beautiful lacquerware. A visit to the lacquer workshop, tucked in the shaded garden is a wonderful experience. Here only vegetal lacquer from the sap of local lacquer trees is used.

Community First - Lacquer workshop

It is applied, pure or dyed with mineral pigments, in multiple layers and combined with gold or silver leafs onto objects or textile panels. It is fascinating to observe the young artists overlaying vegetal leaves or thin gold or silver layers to the lacquer to form stunning pieces, from small boxes to large wall panels [1].

Community First - Lacquer panel

Eric Stocker has been a specialist of lacquer, gold and polychromy since 1974. He has been a restoration expert for the French national conservation authorities. In 1998 he was invited to join a European Union program to revitalize traditional arts in Cambodia. Under Eric’s direction, this program has trained 350 young Cambodians in lacquerware, gold and polychromy. In 2008, along with his brother Thierry who was active in the same art in France since 1978, they create Angkor Artwork with young Cambodian craftsmen [1].

Vegetal Lacquer

The term lacquer originates from the Sanskrit word laksha (लक्ष) meaning “wax”, which was used for both the Lac insect (because of their enormous number, lakh meaning also 100,000 in Hindi) and the scarlet resinous secretion it produces that was used as wood finish in ancient India and neighbouring areas. In terms of modern products, lac-based finishes are referred to as shellac. While both lacquer and shellac are traditional finishes, lacquer is more durable than shellac.

The active ingredient of vegetal lacquer is urushiol. It is slow-drying, and set by oxidation and polymerization, rather than by evaporation alone. In order for it to set properly it requires a humid and warm environment. Lacquer produces very hard, durable finishes that are both beautiful and very resistant to damage by water, acid, alkali or abrasion. It is derived from the tree Toxicodendron vernicifluum, originating from China and commonly known as the Lacquer Tree. The fresh resin from the T. vernicifluum trees causes urushiol-induced contact dermatitis and great care is required in its use.

Lacquer-yielding trees in Thailand, Vietnam, Burma and Taiwan, called Thitsi, are slightly different; they do not contain urushiol, but similar substances called “laccol” or “thitsiol”. The end result is similar but softer than the Chinese or Japanese lacquer. Unlike Japanese and Chinese Toxicodendron verniciflua resin, Burmese lacquer does not cause allergic reactions; it sets slower, and is painted by craftsmen’s hands without using brushes.

An age old tradition in Cambodia

The traditions of lacquerware are oldest in China and Japan where they have been dated back to prehistoric times. Japan has retained intact their lacquerware traditions and craftsmanship. Today’s master craftsmen are able to create unique works of art [2]. In Cambodia, lacquer has been used commonly in Cambodia for many centuries.

Community First - Cambodia Angkor

Recent investigations have shown that Angkor Wat sculptures have been lacquered and dyed between the 12th and 16th centuries CE. Iron oxides were used to obtain the different red dyes. The chemical analysis showed that real lacquer was used, not shellac [3].

Lacquer has also been used to make baskets water tight and examples of this craft can still be found throughout Cambodia as this small box shown to me by Thierry Stocker in his workshop.

Community First -Lacquer Basket

A first layer of lacquer grout is used to cover the basket, then the liquid lacquer is overlaid. After drying, a smooth finish is obtained by polishing.

Lacquer is especially valuable because of its durability and protective qualities. Lacquer resists temperatures as high as 450 degrees Celsius and has been used on such things as electrical wires and cables, for painting boats, or even for protecting electronics inside a mobile phone. Before the last world war, Cambodia was exporting 50 tons per year of lacquer to France, to be used for instance in industrial paint.

The recent wars have changed all this. Craftsmanship and knowledge of the techniques were largely forgotten and many lacquer trees, a wood of high commercial value, were cut down. In 2013, Community First got to know one of the last lacquer collectors in Prolay village, Kompong Tom province. Ta Ly is still using the traditional tools and techniques to collect the precious sap in the few remaining lacquer trees in his area. The trees are scarred in series of successive locations along the main branches. The flow of sap is very slow (about 6 grams per week). The sap is kept in a tightly sealed container until there is enough to be brought up for sale.

Community First - Lacquer Craftsman TaLy2

Community First has discovered in the Bophana video archives in Phnom Penh a documentary from the 1990’s showing the traditional dance Chak Mreak of men and women of the Moui which illustrate the practice of collecting and processing the lacquer [4]. The dance takes place in Sambor Prei Kuk in the Kompong Tom province and is testimonial to the persistence to these traditions until today.

As of this year, Community First is initiating a project to re-implant several thousand trees in the same area to revitalize the production of high quality vegetal lacquer in Cambodia

In September 2014 Community First will join Eric and Thierry Stocker for the 10th anniversary of the Japanese Lacquer Exchange in Pagan, Myanmar where the greatest Japanese masters meet.


[1] Eric & Thierry Stocker:

Eric Stocker http://www.angkorartwork.fr/

Eric Stocker https://www.facebook.com/EricStockerLaqueetTextures

Pictures of Eric & Thierry Stocker workshop http://jeanfrancoisperigois.com/project_item/eric-thierry-stocker/

Phnom Penh Post article on Eric Stocker http://www.phnompenhpost.com/siem-reap-insider/reviving-ancient-art-lacquer

Eric Stocker video https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=bb2hCQJoCUw

[2] Japanese Lacquerware:

Japanese lacquerware http://nihon-ichiban.com/japanese-lacquer-ware/

Kyoto visitor’s guide – urushi lacquerware http://www.kyotoguide.com/ver2/thismonth/urushi.html

Urushi – Japanese lacquer in modern design http://www.architonic.com/ntsht/urushi-japanese-lacquer-in-modern-design/7000666

Bone, flesh, skin – the making of Japanese Lacquer (1 of 2) https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=EkgCW-z-31w

Bone (2 of 2) http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/videoDetails?cat=2&segid=4306

Lacquer – Wikipedia http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lacquer#Urushiol-based_lacquers Cambodian art – Wikipedia http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambodian_art

[3] Lacquer in Angkor Wat:
A. Kiesewetter et al. “On the Polychromy of Angkor Wat Results of Initial Paint Color Investigations” German Apsara Conservation Project.
In Journal of Khmer Studies UDAYA, Nov 2, 2001.

[4] La Danse Chak Mreak
Documentaire 2003 DDC-VI-001965, Bophana Phnom Penh

How you can help


  • $25 can plant a lacquer tree that, upon maturation, can provide means of living for a single family in the area around the lacquer tree plantation


  • If you find this article and our cause interesting, please help us spread the word and further our mission by sharing it with the links below!

Get Involved

  • If you have any knowledge of lacquer-tree planting, the refinement process, or plants that share symbiotic relationships with lacquer when planted side-by-side, sign up for The Exchange, our nonprofit social networking platform, and share your insight!
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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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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.

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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)

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As we enjoy the end of the year’s celebrations, the open-air pits, which are the only source of water for countless families in Sen Sok will begin to dry up (learn more).

In addition, an especially unforgiving rainy season brought floods upon the villagers, which devastated the better part of their crops and polluted the unprotected water supply of over 9,000 people.

Enters Rotary International

But thanks to the efforts of the Pasadena Rotary Club, hundreds of families in Sen Sok received the gift of clean water. By the end of the year, a total of three entire villages will have benefited from the program through the support of the Pasadena Club.

Our objective is now to involve more clubs from Rotary District 5300 in an effort to bring sustainable water to all 16 villages in which we work. The project is currently being presented to Rotary clubs in the Greater Los Angeles Area (read more).

Water: source of opportunity

Next year, when enough wells have been built, Community First will begin helping the families of Sen Sok grow and expand their farms (learn more).

In the villages of Sen Sok, most families who do not have access to water cannot farm their lands, or provide for their families. Often times, parents will leave their children behind to go work abroad as migrant workers, months at the time.

We need to raise $54,000 by January 31st 2013

This is to ensure that the families receiving water for the first time will also be given the resources they need to grow the seeds of change in their community.

With each new farm, parents will be given an alternative to earning a living as migrant workers. And with your support, families will have for the first time the opportunity to stay home and care for their families by becoming successful farmers.

During this season of giving, let us think of those who are eager to grow their own food and feed their family as they get water for the first time in the life. Please, consider helping families by donating towards out agricultural program as part of your year-end giving.

Donate Now!

Sponsor alternative farming in an entire village (read more)

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