If there’s a pitfall about luxury travel, it’s the twinge of guilt you feel when going to destinations that are less developed and have economic hardship. You can feel uneasy to be enjoying luxury when others around you are struggling to live from day to day.
Thankfully, hotels and resorts can help bridge this gap because when they set up in these locations, they create jobs, training, and employment for local people, thus injecting income back in the local economy. One such destination is Cambodia, where tourism is a big factor in bringing in foreign currency and boosting the local economy.
Cambodian businessman Mr. Sokoun Chanpreda returned from living overseas to help rebuild his country and the livelihood of its people when he established The Shinta Mani hotel in Siem Reap in 2004. The hotel and hospitality training school were started together to provide free training to underprivileged local youth to give them the skills for employment and a better future. Proceeds from the hotel and the Shinta Mani Boutique support the foundation.
The foundation is guided by Sokoun Chanpreda’s philosophy of Open Doors, Open Hearts, and aims to improve the livelihoods of the local people through the three core areas of education, healthcare and direct assistance.
For the first four years, the focus was on hospitality and culinary training for local youth. In 2008 the foundation started engaging in community development programs to help rural families by building water wells, houses, and toilets for people who needed it.
Since 2004, more than 229 students have graduated from the Shinta Mani School of Hospitality and still enjoy employment in the immediate township and local countryside.
I was interested and wanted to learn more about the foundation and its works, so I had an interesting talk with Brad Akins, Executive Director of the Shinta Mani Foundation, as we sat in the chic and comfortably air-conditioned interior of Kroya Restaurant at Shinta Mani Angkor hotel on a blazing hot day.
What are the main activities of the Shinta Mani Foundation?
Education, Health care, Direct assistance – such as building homes, wells, and toilets, for families or communities in need. So far we’ve built 1,400 water wells.
Now we’ve started doing Micro Finance, which provides small loans so people can create small business start-ups.
How do you select which kids to join your hospitality and culinary training school?
The hotel training school was set up specifically to help kids who are poor, at risk, orphans, and have no options and no education.
Can hotel guests donate to the foundation? How?
Yes. Hotel guests can donate what they want. Some people donate in cash, and some prefer to donate useful products such as children’s clothing, diapers, shoes, bikes, mosquito nets. You can even donate a home to a family in need.
Many visitors come to Cambodia and want to help the local people but they have to be careful where they donate to. There are lots of scams in Cambodia, like fake orphanages are set up to get money. Donors must do research to find out where the money goes because some donors like to support specific areas, such as orphans, young children, women, etc.
I met one American woman who came here from the United States specifically to find an orphanage to donate to because that’s what her church in the U.S. had identified as their cause. She tried doing this on her own and ended up coming to me because she didn’t know how or where to start looking for orphanages in Cambodia.
Over the years, guests of Shinta Mani have given donations to the Shinta Mani Foundation that sponsored over 900 piglets, 800 school supplies, 1,330 water wells and 97 homes.
How can a guest or visitor donate a home?
It costs USD 1,800 to build a local home. People donate the money and the foundation selects the recipient and builds the house. Usually the homes will go to disabled people, kids, widows, an older teen orphan with younger siblings to care for, and elderly grandparents taking care of young children.
How else does the foundation help local communities?
Through education, we help them become self-sufficient and self-sustainable. We provide trainers who train villagers and families to farm chickens, pigs, and crops.
Currently we’re developing organic gardens, which also end up providing nutrition for the hotel. The gardens are evaluated by a nutritionist to grow crops with all the nutrition that fulfills health needs. The gardens are only 20 minutes from the hotel, and provide fresh farm-to-table vegetables for the hotel, picked the same day and fully ripened.
What is the greatest area of need right now?
The greatest area of need in Siem Reap and in Cambodia is education. The three top causes of death are lifestyle, eating cheap bad food. We have found that health problems are related to lack of proper education.
What’s the best way guests and visitors can help support the Shinta Mani Foundation?
Donate in cash to support students . This money goes towards training, stipends for the students, housing – all these are what the foundation provides free for the students. We accept 20 to 24 students per year. We also provide loans to students for their higher education to pay for university fees.
What other projects does the foundation get involved with?
Shinta Mani Foundation also donates to other organizations and is involved in environmental work, creating medical and dental clinics, helping wildlife protection, producing documentary films.
Even though the foundation itself is managed by a small team, we’re able to accomplish all these different projects by partnering with other organizations so they support each other. The other organizations bring in the expertise and operations, and SMF sets up the local logistics.
Shinta Mani Foundation is a registered NGO with two chairpeople, both Cambodian. One is the owner of the hotel. One of the biggest supporters of the foundation is the hotel designer Bill Bensley, who lives in Bangkok.