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International Women’s Day with Our Nonprofit Partner, iDE

International Women’s Day with Our Nonprofit Partner, iDE

The largest body of freshwater in Southeast Asia is the Tonle Sap Lake of Cambodia. Home to more than 3 million people who rely on the lake and its flood plains for fish, water, and housing. Half the year, the intense rainy seasons of equatorial Cambodia flood the lake, overflowing into surrounding communities. During this time, the lake expands to nearly six times its size, taking plastic, waste, and farmland with it.

To contend with this unique climate, families erect stilted or floating villages: communities of houses connected by a network of docks, boats, and telephone wires. Ho Vuta, a local community leader, says people living on this lake have endured the challenges of living on the water because they couldn’t afford mainland housing, and the government would not let them title land beside the lake.

“Most people have no choice,” Ho Vuta says, “They just stay here and fish." 

Village market on Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia.

While the people of the Tonle Sap feed Cambodia through one of the most productive fisheries in the world, the context of their home presents incredible challenges to accessing basic infrastructure, including toilets and trash collection. It is estimated that without intervention, 500,000 tons of plastic will enter the Tonle Sap Lake between 2000 and 2030. This not only puts the livelihoods of Tonle Sap communities at risk but also the health and safety of families.

Luckily, these communities are made up of resilient, passionate, and innovative entrepreneurs intent on overcoming these challenges. By connecting with iDE, our nonprofit partner powering entrepreneurs to end poverty, women are starting businesses that will address these challenges at the root. One of these women is Nov Sarouen, an entrepreneur powering her community beyond plastic pollution. 

Nov Sarouen collects plastic from households on the lake. She navigates her traditional long boat between the houses in her floating Cambodian village. When a household hands her a haul of empty plastic water bottles, she pays them based on the bottles’ weight, making a profit when she sells them at the collection point of a private recycling company.

“It is hard work. But I really like this business,” Nov says.

While seemingly small, these efforts are far from in vain. Based on recycled plastic prices, the amount of waste slated to enter the Tonle Sap between 2021 and 2030 could be worth $4.8 billion. By taking on this role, Nov Sarouen is breaking local stigmas, cleaning up her community, and inspiring others to do the same. But that does not mean the work is without its challenges. iDE helps to power Nov and others to overcome these dilemmas and run a thriving, sustainable business.

Deep social stigmas, low profit margins, health challenges, and limited markets present significant barriers to Nov Sarouen’s work to provide key trash collection infrastructure on the Tonle Sap Lake. That is why she connected with our nonprofit partner iDE to receive business training on how to maximize her efforts and profit. She participated in a program designed to teach waste collectors business skills such as bookkeeping and customer targeting, unlocking the knowledge necessary to achieve results. 

Nov Saroeun at iDE's training.

“I learned a lot from the training. That’s why I gave up my time to be here,” says Saroeun, who is now equipped with the skills to take her environmental entrepreneurship to the next level. 

iDE is setting big goals to power more people like Nov to build businesses that will have long-term impacts in their own communities. Together, we can power hundreds of people like Nov to make a living keeping the Tonle Sap clean. Together, we can solve big problems. 

Support iDE’s training and education efforts and learn more about their work on their website. You can also support iDE with your EcoVessel purchase, we donate 5% of all online purchases to our nonprofit partners, just select iDE at check out! You can also support through our giveaway live on Instagram starting on March 4th and ending at midnight on International Women’s Day on March 8th.

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