Aide et Action (AEA) has started its partnership with Rabbit School since 2011 to implement the “Education for children with moderated-severe disabilities” project. One of our main objectives is to improve their social inclusion by building their capacities and skills and then mainstream them in the professional life. The project is gradually successful as more and more beneficiaries are employed in the local market. Below is the interview between AEA and Mr. Tom Edwards, founding member of Mad Monkey restaurant and guesthouse, who started employing three former students of the project, Dong, Visal and Veasna.
Tom has been living in Cambodia since three years. After a career in London as a banker, he fell in love with Cambodia when he visited it and decided to work here. Working at Mad Monkey, he tries to implement a strategy that supports marginalized youth and the community while creating a viable business and good environment for all clients and staff.
AEA: Mad Monkey is a Guesthouse with a social mission. Can you tell us something about that?
Tom: We at Mad Monkey are constantly trying to improve our business as well as to create a good environment for all clients and staff. We have found that it makes good business sense to create a good two way communication among all staff, they are motivated, we can share best practices and keep the staff for a long time. Also, by investing in a motivated staff, we create a positive image for our customers. Concerning our social activities, we are investing in a positive and sustainable community, by employing people with difficulties from here. We pay higher wages, give people a health support, small allowances and fund training courses in English and IT. Currently, we are employing 10 former street children as well as 3 children with disabilities from Rabbit School. They come from families who live from the hand in the mouth, and by working here, they can support their families and make some savings, as they are highly motivated to break the circle of poverty. It is a great experience to work with people from such different backgrounds.
AEA: Currently you employ former students of Rabbit School. How did you get in touch with them?
Tom: We had an English volunteer in holistic healthcare staying here for a while. She was working for Rabbit School and suggested that we should employ some former students. First Visal and Dong, were working here for 4 months. Our experiences were very positive. Unfortunately, Visal, who was always all smiles, fell sick and had to leave. Soon afterwards, also Dong left us. But four months ago we employed with Veasna. Working with him has been a real pleasure for all our staff.
AEA: What have your experiences been so far? What are some of the challenges and opportunities?
Tom: Overall, we had a very good experience working with both street children and handicapped children. Surely, we had concerns whether the guests or other staff would stigmatize them or react negatively. But, the opposite was the case. All our staff enjoys sharing their knowledge and experience with all handicapped employees. Especially since Veasna is here, our staff has gotten even closer together. He works with Kunthea in the laundry team, and she turns out to be a bit of a mother to him. Many staff members have opened up, as they often have handicapped family members, who never had the chance to work or receive any education. Issues in the past were that Visal missed some days due to his ear infections and Dong was quite individualistic. But with Veasna, we only have good experiences. He is really investigative and enjoys learning. For now he is working manually, but he has started to bring the guests to their rooms and is taking English lessons at the moment. We are sure that he will make a lot of progress and take on a more important role soon. Hence, it hasn’t been difficult to welcome them. Our staff feels fulfilled, our guests are happy and our business is growing.
AEA: AEA and our partners are investing strongly in inclusive education. We would like to expand our programs and help more handicapped youth to find a job. What are your recommendations to us?
Tom: Continue your work. We hope that Rabbit School will stay in touch with us, so we can recruit more handicapped youth in the future. I would look for suited candidates to work in medium guesthouses and boutique hotels. We would recommend all medium sized employers to look into hiring people from difficult backgrounds and handicapped children as it pays off. Also, we would be interested in selling things that Rabbit School children produce. We can only say the business philosophy pays off, socially and economically!
AEA: Do you have any last comments to AEA and Rabbit School?
Tom: I would like to thank Rabbit School and AEA for their good work and for having put us into contact with Dong, Visal and Veasna. It has honestly been a great pleasure to work with them and it is nice to see Veasna develop his skills. I hope that our cooperation will continue in the future.